The purpose for writing this article is to show what the scriptures say about baptism and show that baptism is not necessary for salvation, but is a step we take after we have been saved to picture how we were saved by Jesus’ resurrection. We shall also examine the arguments from those that teach baptism is necessary for salvation.
What is baptism?
The Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines baptism as – “The application of water to a person, as a sacrament or religious ceremony, by which he is initiated into the visible church of Christ. This is normally performed by sprinkling or immersion.”
The dictionary definition does not give us a clear definition of what baptism means. The Bible uses the same word in different ways by not only referring to water baptism.
- Jesus Christ spoke of his sufferings and death like a baptism
- The scriptures teach we are baptised into Christ’s body
- We are baptised with the Holy Ghost
- Moses and the Israelites were baptised through the Red Sea
It also doesn’t differentiate between immersion and sprinkling (please see our page on infant baptism for more information on this).
The verse below teaches that baptism is plural and is not just referring to water baptism only, because there are multiple baptisms.
Hebrews 6:1-2 “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.”
The Bible tells us to leave these principle doctrines and not lay those foundations again that have already been laid, we are to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Baptism is a foundational principle or main doctrine of Christ as well as salvation (repentance from dead works and faith toward God). This needs to be dealt with so we can grow and move on to perfection.
John the Baptist:
The first time baptism is spoken about is at the beginning of the New Testament with John the Baptist, so before this time God never commanded men to be baptised. None of the Old Testament believers were baptised in water but they had received salvation from God by faith.
If baptism washes our sins away and is required for eternal life, how could people be saved before John the Baptist came to prepare the way for the Lord? (Please look at our pages on how to be saved and eternal security for more information on this).
Those that teach this doctrine of baptism being necessary for salvation are usually Catholicism, Mormonism, Lutheran, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Christ and most Pentecostal groups. Also it goes hand in hand with teaching salvation by faith plus works, baptism is a commandment to believers so it must be obeyed and those that teach you must keep commandments after salvation would include baptism as it is the first command given to a believer after trusting in Christ. So any that teach you must endure to the end by keeping faith and good works until death must include baptism whether they know they teach this or not.
Again, as the scriptures teach salvation by faith only which differs to all other views and religions and within so called Christian groups who teach baptism brings salvation, the Bible does not teach you must be baptised in water to receive eternal life.
John the Baptist preached that he was told of God to baptise repentant people in water for their repentance, we will deal with this as we move on.
John 1:31-33 “And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptising with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptise with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptiseth with the Holy Ghost.” John was told that he was to baptise with water because the Christ should be made manifest to Israel, the Christ is the one who John would see the Spirit descend on.
Matthew 3:11 “I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:”. John said he baptised people with water unto repentance.
Baptism and repentance:
Mark 1:4 it says, “John did baptise in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” This is the same wording used that Peter said in Acts 2:38 after they heard and were pricked at the heart, which we know from Romans 10:17 brings faith.
They heard the word of God and were pricked at the heart, Peter told them first to repent. So what does this mean? (Please see our repentance for salvation page).
Repent is to change. When used in the context of salvation, it is to believe the gospel, to only trust in Christ the Saviour and nothing else. Mark 1:15 “And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”
Christ told people to repent and believe. This is not works and faith as it cannot be both (Romans 11:6). Jesus said in Luke 13:3 “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” So if we do not repent we will perish, this lines up with John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Jesus therefore taught in different places in scripture that people would perish unless they repent, but also unless they believe.
Believing and repenting are used interchangeably in the context of an individual perishing, if scripture is used to define scripture.
Paul later spoke and expounded on what John the Baptist did and why he baptised. In Acts 19:4 it says, “Then said Paul, John verily baptised with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
Paul said John baptised with the baptism of repentance saying to believe on Christ. There is no contradiction here, and therefore Jesus Christ, John the Baptist and Paul all taught that everyone has to believe on Christ to receive forgiveness of sins.
Again in Acts 2:38, “Then Peter said unto them, repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
Just as Jesus Christ and John the Baptist taught people to first repent/believe then be baptised.
The confusion is when this phrase “for the remission of sins” is used. People read this and take it to say baptism removes your sins. This same phrase is used in:
Mark 1:4 “John did baptise in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”
Luke 3:3 “And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;”.
“For” means the same as ‘because’ of the remission of sins.
1) Peter preached the word of God.
2) He told them to repent.
3) He told them to be baptised because their sins have been removed.
Before Peter preached Acts 2:38, he preached verse 21 to the people on how to be saved. Acts 2:21 “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Peter taught that calling upon the name of the Lord brings salvation, not baptism.
Now look at Mark 16:16:
“He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
1) He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved.
2) But he that believeth not shall be damned.
A great multitude of verses teach that we are saved by faith. Using that with Mark 16:16, if you believe and are baptised you shall be saved. It does not teach if you are not baptised you shall be damned, only that if you do not believe, then you shall be damned. Always use scripture with scripture to clear up anything that seems unclear.
Does baptism wash away sin?
A verse that is often used to teach baptism washes away sin is Acts 22:16. “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” This is after Paul was blinded by the Lord and sent to Ananias in Damascus, where Paul received his sight and was then born again.
There are two ways you can look at this:
1) “be baptised, and wash away thy sins”
2) “wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord”
The second option lines up with much scripture that teaches “calling on the name of the Lord” brings salvation. For example, Genesis 4:26, Genesis 12:8, Genesis 13:4, Genesis 21:33, Genesis 26:25, Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, Acts 9:14, Acts 9:21, Acts 22:16, Romans 10:13 and 1 Corinthians 1:2 show among many others that if you call upon the name of the Lord you shall be saved.
Notice the first time the account of Paul’s conversion and baptism is given in Acts 9:18, “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptised.” The scales fell from his eyes before he was baptised. The scales falling from his eyes and him receiving his sight is a picture of salvation (John 9:25, Romans 11:7, 2 Corinthians 4:4, 2 Corinthians 3:13-16, Ephesians 4:18).
Baptism as a figure:
Another verse used to teach that baptism saves is 1 Peter 3:21 “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.
We shall split this verse to show what it is teaching. The middle of the verse (“not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,”) is in brackets which is an extra note we should notice as it sheds light on the verse, we shall look at the verse without the text in brackets then add to show what it is teaching.
“The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
The key word is “figure”: a figure is an image, picture, likeness, resemblance, representation.
Baptism is a picture of what saves us. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is what saves us and baptism is a figure (representation or picture) of this.
Let’s take a look at the text in brackets, “(not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,)”.
It is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh (our good works or being washed in water by baptism) but a good conscience toward God. This comes by the resurrection of Christ.
Remember, baptism is a figure of what saves us, by the resurrection of Christ.
Being “born of water”:
Another verse pulled out of context is John 3:5 “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
This verse is often used to justify that baptism is necessary for salvation. All through John 3, Jesus Christ speaks of salvation, seeing and entering into the kingdom of God. Unless a man is born again he shall not enter and not have everlasting life. We shall look at the entire context of what the Lord Jesus was saying to Nicodemus.
John 3:3-8 “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
This is what Jesus Christ is teaching to Nicodemus, “ye must be born again”. It is not a rebirth but a different birth which is why the Lord said “again”. Nicodemus didn’t understand this and that is why he asked “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” Jesus said unless a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter.
There are two ways of answering this using scripture:
1) The water birth is our natural birth from our mother’s womb.
2) The water birth is the word of God (Romans 10:17, 1 Corinthians 4:15, James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:23, Ephesians 5:26). We are born/begotten by the word of God which is represented by water.
The spiritual birth is the Holy Spirit that quickens our spirit, Ephesians 2:1 “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;”. We are dead in sin and need our spirit to be brought to life by God’s Spirit.
This goes hand in hand with being born of the Spirit, as the Word of God and the Spirit of God work together just as they did whilst Christ walked the earth. The Word of God was made flesh with the Spirit without measure (John 1:14, John 3:34).
John 6:63 “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”
The words of Christ give us life and the Spirit quickeneth (makes alive) with his words.
This lines up exactly with what Jesus Christ said to Nicodemus in John 3:6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” This shows whatever is born of the flesh is not spiritual, that is why we all need to be born again of the Spirit because we have all been born of the flesh.
Nowhere in the Bible does it describe water baptism as a birth, the only place people teach this from is John 3:5 about being born of water, but we have shown this cannot be baptism and is either a natural flesh birth or is being born of the word of God.
The Bible teaches the opposite and likens baptism to a death and burial then a resurrection, not a birth. For example, Romans 6:4, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
Is baptism part of the gospel?
The Bible clearly teaches it is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that saves us (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), the unrighteous sinner trusts in the righteousness of the Saviour to be imputed to him, as Christ was the sacrifice for our sin and made the payment for that. By faith in that, and only that, we pass from death to life.
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth and said he was not sent to baptise but to preach the gospel. 1 Corinthians 1:17 says, “For Christ sent me not to baptise, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.”
The Bible makes a clear difference between the gospel and baptism.
The gospel saves us and Paul got people saved by all means (Romans 11:14, 1 Corinthians 9:22) but he didn’t get people saved by baptising them.
Another teaching is that when we are immersed in water to represent or show what the Lord has done for us when we believe, we then come into contact with his blood when we are baptised in water and only then. How can the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanseth us from all sin only be applied when we are baptised in water?
This teaching comes from wrestling with Romans 6:3, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death?”
They teach that to be in Christ you have to be baptised (immersed in water) and when you are in Christ you come into contact with his blood and then your sins are washed away. This is false doctrine.
Look at 1 Corinthians 12:13 “For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” This verse teaches we are baptised by one Spirit into his body. It is not a physical water baptism that puts us in Christ, but is the Holy Spirit. In these verses it shows that we are in Christ by faith and baptised into his body.
Galatians 3:26-27 “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ.” We are children of God by faith and this is why we are baptised into his body.
The scriptures teach that no individual was baptised before John the Baptist so we would have to assume if baptism brings salvation, the Old Testament saints would have had to have their sins forgiven another way. This then creates a sudden change from faith and calling upon the name of the Lord to being immersed in water to be saved.
This creates confusion and is contrary to many scriptures that teach salvation is by faith without works. John the Baptist was never baptised in scripture either, yet Christ called him the greatest born of women. Jesus Christ himself was baptised but would be an extreme heresy to say he needed baptism to wash away his sin which he didn’t have.
The thief on the cross was with the Lord in Paradise after they both died and he was not baptised. Paul wasn’t sent to baptise but was sent to preach the gospel to save them that are lost. Clearly this shows that baptism is not necessary for salvation.