Thursday, January 27, 2011

Water Baptism Does Not Save: Part 1: Mark 16:16

by Steve C. Halbrook

According to baptismal regenerationists/remissionists, Mark 16:16 teaches that those who have not been water baptized will be lost.  

Here is what the text actually says:
"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."
The following analysis will show that, contrary to baptismal regenerationists/remissionists, the text only teaches   that those who do not believe will be lost.

Prefatory Comments

Before analyzing what the text says about baptism, we must note the following:

1. According to some, the authenticity of this passage is in dispute.
  For instance, 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.
Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 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.

If one checks Mark 16:16 in his Bible, there may be comments about the earliest manuscripts not having Mark 16:9-20.

However, even if these passages are inspired, Mark 16:16 does not teach that water baptism saves, as we shall see.

2. Those who say Mark 16:16 teaches salvation by water baptism don’t believe what this text says, for the text teaches that salvation cannot be lost. 

 Virtually all who hold to salvation by water baptism also believe that one can lose his salvation. But Mark
16:16 says, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved”—not “Whoever believes and is baptized  might be saved, on the condition that one does not fall away before death.”

Thus baptismal regenerationists who insist on being correct about Mark 16:16, but then ignore will be saved,” lose interpretational credibility from the outset.

What kind of baptism?

Now, to address the text itself.  What kind of baptism does Mark 16:16 have in mind?  Remember, the word “baptism” is never self-defining.  Since the word baptism can mean different things—Spirit baptism, water baptism, baptism by fire, etc.—the word’s context must be understood in light of the immediate context and the full counsel of God. 

We believe that, due to the surrounding context, the most likely meaning is Spirit baptism. 

1. The next two verses list signs that accompany Holy Spirit baptism, such as casting out demons, speaking in tongues, and healing the sick: 
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)
Whether anyone today baptized by the Holy Spirit can do such things is besides the point. What is most significant about Spirit baptism is that it unites one to Christ--regardless if they also receive the additional blessings mentioned previously:
"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)
 2. The text might seem confusing if it is talking about water baptism, since the text does not explicitly say one way or another what the eternal destiny is of those who believe but are not baptized in water.

As we will show later in this article, the Bible elsewhere teaches that one is saved through faith, apart from works, including water baptism.  Thus saving faith and water baptism are separable.  One can be baptized in water but lack saving faith, and one can have saving faith but not be baptized in water. 

However, if the text is talking about Spirit baptism, the absence of baptism in the second clause can be easily explained.  This is because saving faith and Holy Spirit baptism are inseparable, in the sense that one cannot receive one without receiving the other.  Since Christ's glorification, all believer's are 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) (emphasis mine)
Thus, if the baptism in the first clause of Mark 16:16 is Holy Spirit baptism, the absence of “baptism” in the second clause can be explained, in that everyone who believes receives Holy Spirit baptism, and, by implication, everyone who does not believe does not receive Holy Spirit baptism.

Hence, if Mark 16:16 is talking about Holy Spirit baptism instead of water baptism, the clause “whoever does not believe will be condemned” could take for granted that whoever does not believe are also not (Spirit) baptized.

However, if Mark 16:16 does refer to water baptism, water baptism cannot be presumed in its second clause, since, as we have noted, one is saved through faith apart from works, including water baptism.

3. Of course, even if Mark 16:16 is talking about water baptism, the immediate context refutes the belief that water baptism plays a role in salvation.

Those who believe water baptism saves deny that one is transformed by the Holy Spirit until after water baptism.  But verses 17 and 18 mention that those who believe manifest certain signs, such as tongues and healing the sick.  These are signs that can--or at least once did for some--accompany Holy Spirit baptism.

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 are water baptized.

Not only do the verses after Mark 16:16 refute a baptismal regenerationist interpretation of the text.  So does the verse before it, which reads:
 "And he said to them, 'Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.'" (Mark 16:15)
Water baptism is not part of the gospel.  Paul distinguishes water baptism from the gospel in 1 Corinthians 1:17:
“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” 
Indeed, this preaching of the gospel Paul refers to assumes salvation thru faith alone. As a few verses down say,
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:21) 
What does the full counsel of God say about Belief and Salvation?

And even if verses 15, 17 and 18 are ignored, the full counsel of God refutes the baptismal regenerationist interpretation of Mark 16:16.  

We should note that at best, the baptismal regenerationalist can only argue from silence regarding Mark 16:16.  Even if the kind of baptism in view is water baptism, the text is silent about whether those who believe but are not baptized are lost.

Thus, insisting that Mark 16:16 teaches that water baptism saves is a fallacious argument from silence.  In areas of silence, one must see what the full counsel of God says, instead of speculating.

Indeed, the rule of biblical interpretation says that Scripture interprets Scripture. God—not man—is the best interpreter of His Word. In short, we must be Bereans and study diligently the full counsel of God—and not subjecting Scripture to our own arbitrary, private interpretations.

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 4:1-12; 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

Mark 16:16 and Parallel Passages

And, let’s juxtapose Mark 16:16 with two 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. In both texts one is saved through faith alone.  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. Let's now bring these two passages to fill in the blanks of Mark 16:16:
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.”

Second clause qualifying the first clause?

It’s possible the second clause, “but whoever does not believe will be condemned,” is meant to qualify the first clauseWhoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” so that the reader understands that while water baptism is expected of true Christians, belief alone—not water baptism—is associated with salvation.

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.”
C. H. Spurgeon, Baptismal Regeneration: A Sermon (No. 573) Delivered on Sunday Morning, June 5th, 1864.(The Spurgeon Archive, 2001). Retrieved January 25, 2011, from

If Mark 16:16 teaches Baptismal Regeneration, does Matthew 10:42 teach Cup-Giving Regeneration?

Matthew 10:42 reads, 
And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
Are we to understand this to teach a doctrine of cup-giving regeneration--that is, that in order for one to be saved, one must give a disciple of Christ a cup of cold water?

Of course not.  This is something expected of true Christians, but there is nothing saving about it.  Indeed, some Christians have not even had the opportunity to give a disciple a cup of cold water.  But certainly that doesn't mean they are lost.  The Bible is clear that one is saved through faith, not by works.

And so, just because those who believe and give a disciple of Christ a cup of cold water are saved, it doesn't necessarily mean that those who believe but who don't give a disciple a cup of cold water are not saved.

Similarly, just because Mark 16:16 teaches that those who believe and are baptized will be saved, it doesn't necessarily mean that those who believe and are not baptized will be lost.


In light of all of this, it should be clear that Mark 16:16 does not teach that water baptism saves.[1]  This can be concluded both from the immediate context as well as the full counsel of God--regardless of whether the baptism in view is Holy Spirit baptism or water baptism.  

[1] 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).

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