Is baptism necessary for salvation?

 The belief that baptism is necessary for salvation is also known as “baptismal regeneration.” It is our contention that baptism is an important step of obedience for a Christian, but we adamantly reject baptism as being required for salvation. We strongly believe that each and every Christian should be water baptized by immersion. Baptism illustrates a believer’s identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Romans 6:3-4 declares, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” The action of being immersed in the water illustrates dying and being buried with Christ. The action of coming out of the water pictures Christ’s resurrection.

Requiring anything in addition to faith in Jesus Christ for salvation is a works-based salvation. To add anything to the gospel is to say that Jesus’ death on the cross was not sufficient to purchase our salvation. To say that baptism is necessary for salvation is to say we must add our own good works and obedience to Christ’s death in order to make it sufficient for salvation. Jesus’ death alone paid for our sins (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus’ payment for our sins is appropriated to our “account” by faith alone (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, baptism is an important step of obedience after salvation but cannot be a requirement for salvation.

Yes, there are some verses that seem to indicate baptism as a requirement for salvation. However, since the Bible so clearly tells us that salvation is received by faith alone (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5), there must be a different interpretation of those verses. Scripture does not contradict Scripture. In Bible times, a person who converted from one religion to another was often baptized to identify conversion. Baptism was the means of making a decision public. Those who refused to be baptized were saying they did not truly believe. So, in the minds of the apostles and early disciples, the idea of an un-baptized believer was unheard of. When a person claimed to believe in Christ, yet was ashamed to proclaim his faith in public, it indicated that he did not have true faith.

If baptism is necessary for salvation, why would Paul have said, “I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius” (1 Corinthians 1:14)? Why would he have said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17)? Granted, in this passage Paul is arguing against the divisions that plagued the Corinthian church. However, how could Paul possibly say, “I am thankful that I did not baptize…” or “For Christ did not send me to baptize…” if baptism were necessary for salvation? If baptism is necessary for salvation, Paul would literally be saying, “I am thankful that you were not saved…” and “For Christ did not send me to save…” That would be an unbelievably ridiculous statement for Paul to make. Further, when Paul gives a detailed outline of what he considers the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-8), why does he neglect to mention baptism? If baptism is a requirement for salvation, how could any presentation of the gospel lack a mention of baptism?

Does Acts 2:38 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Does Mark 16:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Does 1 Peter 3:21 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Does John 3:5 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Does Acts 22:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Does Galatians 3:27 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Baptism is not necessary for salvation. Baptism does not save from sin but from a bad conscience. In 1 Peter 3:21, Peter clearly taught that baptism was not a ceremonial act of physical purification, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. Baptism is the symbol of what has already occurred in the heart and life of one who has trusted Christ as Savior (Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12). Baptism is an important step of obedience that every Christian should take. Baptism cannot be a requirement for salvation. To make it such is an attack on the sufficiency of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Does Acts 2:38 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Acts 2:38, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” As with any single verse or passage, we discern what it teaches by first filtering it through what we know the Bible teaches on the subject at hand. In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9). So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation, is a faulty interpretation. For more information, please visit our webpage on “Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?

Why, then, do some come to the conclusion that we must be baptized in order to be saved? Often, the discussion of whether or not this passage teaches baptism is required for salvation centers around the Greek word eis that is translated “for” in this passage. Those who hold to the belief that baptism is required for salvation are quick to point to this verse and the fact that it says “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,” assuming that the word translated “for” in this verse means “in order to get.” However, in both Greek and English, there are many possible usages of the word “for.”

As an example, when one says “Take two aspirin for your headache,” it is obvious to everybody that it does not mean “take two aspirin in order to get your headache,” but instead to “take two aspirin because you already have a headache.” There are three possible meanings of the word “for” that might fit the context of Acts 2:38: 1–“in order to be, become, get, have, keep, etc.,” 2—“because of, as the result of,” or 3—“with regard to.” Since any one of the three meanings could fit the context of this passage, additional study is required in order to determine which one is correct.

We need to start by looking back to the original language and the meaning of the Greek word eis. This is a common Greek word (it is used 1774 times in the New Testament) that is translated many different ways. Like the English word “for” it can have several different meanings. So, again, we see at least two or three possible meanings of the passage, one that would seem to support that baptism is required for salvation and others that would not. While both the meanings of the Greek word eis are seen in different passages of Scripture, such noted Greek scholars as A.T. Robertson and J.R. Mantey have maintained that the Greek preposition eis in Acts 2:38 should be translated “because of” or “in view of,” and not “in order to,” or “for the purpose of.”

One example of how this preposition is used in other Scriptures is seen in Matthew 12:41 where the word eis communicates the “result” of an action. In this case it is said that the people of Nineveh “repented at the preaching of Jonah” (the word translated “at” is the same Greek word eis). Clearly, the meaning of this passage is that they repented “because of’” or “as the result of” Jonah’s preaching. In the same way, it would be possible that Acts 2:38 is indeed communicating the fact that they were to be baptized “as the result of” or “because” they already had believed and in doing so had already received forgiveness of their sins (John 1:12John 3:14-18John 5:24John 11:25-26Acts 10:43Acts 13:39Acts 16:31Acts 26:18Romans 10:9Ephesians 1:12-14). This interpretation of the passage is also consistent with the message recorded in Peter’s next two sermons to unbelievers where he associates the forgiveness of sins with the act of repentance and faith in Christ without even mentioning baptism (Acts 3:17-26Acts 4:8-12).

In addition to Acts 2:38, there are three other verses where the Greek word eis is used in conjunction with the word “baptize” or “baptism.” The first of these is Matthew 3:11, “baptize you with water for repentance.” Clearly the Greek word eis cannot mean “in order to get” in this passage. They were not baptized “in order to get repentance,” but were “baptized because they had repented.” The second passage is Romans 6:3 where we have the phrase “baptized into (eis) His death.” This again fits with the meaning “because of” or in “regard to.” The third and final passage is 1 Corinthians 10:2 and the phrase “baptized into (eis) Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Again, eis cannot mean “in order to get” in this passage because the Israelites were not baptized in order to get Moses to be their leader, but because he was their leader and had led them out of Egypt. If one is consistent with the way the preposition eis is used in conjunction with baptism, we must conclude that Acts 2:38 is indeed referring to their being baptized “because” they had received forgiveness of their sins. Some other verses where the Greek preposition eis does not mean “in order to obtain” are Matthew 28:191 Peter 3:21Acts 19:31 Corinthians 1:15; and 12:13.

The grammatical evidence surrounding this verse and the preposition eis are clear that while both views on this verse are well within the context and the range of possible meanings of the passage, the majority of the evidence is in favor that the best possible definition of the word “for” in this context is either “because of” or “in regard to” and not “in order to get.” Therefore, Acts 2:38, when interpreted correctly, does not teach that baptism is required for salvation.

Besides the precise meaning of the preposition translated “for” in this passage, there is another grammatical aspect of this verse to carefully consider—the change between the second person and third person between the verbs and pronouns in the passage. For example, in Peter’s commands to repent and be baptized the Greek verb translated “repent” is in the second person plural while the verb “be baptized,” is in the third person singular. When we couple this with the fact that the pronoun “your” in the phrase “forgiveness of your sins” is also second person plural, we see an important distinction being made that helps us understand this passage. The result of this change from second person plural to third person singular and back would seem to connect the phrase “forgiveness of your sins” directly with the command to “repent.” Therefore, when you take into account the change in person and plurality, essentially what you have is “You (plural) repent for the forgiveness of your (plural) sins, and let each one (singular) of you be baptized (singular).” Or, to put it in a more distinct way: “You all repent for the forgiveness of all of your sins, and let each one of you be baptized.”

Another error that is made by those who believe Acts 2:38 teaches baptism is required for salvation is what is sometimes called the Negative Inference Fallacy. Simply put, this is the idea that just because a statement is true, we cannot assume all negations (or opposites) of that statement are true. In other words, just because Acts 2:38 says “repent and be baptized….for the forgiveness of sins…and the gift of the Holy Spirit,” does not mean that if one repents and is not baptized, he will not receive forgiveness of sins or the gift of the Holy Spirit.

There is an important difference between a condition of salvation and a requirement for salvation. The Bible is clear that belief is both a condition and a requirement, but the same cannot be said for baptism. The Bible does not say that if a man is not baptized then he will not be saved. One can add any number of conditions to faith (which is required for salvation), and the person can still be saved. For example if a person believes, is baptized, goes to church, and gives to the poor he will be saved. Where the error in thinking occurs is if one assumes all these other conditions, “baptism, going to church, giving to the poor,” are required for one to be saved. While they might be the evidence of salvation, they are not a requirement for salvation. (For a more thorough explanation of this logical fallacy, please see the Question: Does Mark 16:16 teach that baptism is required for salvation?).

The fact that baptism is not required to receive forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit should also be evident by simply reading a little farther in the book of Acts. In Acts 10:43, Peter tells Cornelius that “through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (please note that nothing at this point has been mentioned about being baptized, yet Peter connects believing in Christ with the act of receiving forgiveness for sins). The next thing that happens is, having believed Peter’s message about Christ, the “Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message” (Acts 10:44). It is only after they had believed, and therefore received forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, that Cornelius and his household were baptized (Acts 10:47-48). The context and the passage are very clear; Cornelius and his household received both forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit before they were ever baptized. In fact, the reason Peter allowed them to be baptized was that they showed evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit “just as Peter and the Jewish believers” had.

In conclusion, Acts 2:38 does not teach that baptism is required for salvation. While baptism is important as the sign that one has been justified by faith and as the public declaration of one’s faith in Christ and membership in a local body of believers, it is not the means of remission or forgiveness of sins. The Bible is very clear that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (John 1:12John 3:16Acts 16:31Romans 3:21-30Romans 4:5Romans 10:9-10Ephesians 2:8-10Philippians 3:9Galatians 2:16).

Does Mark 16:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

As with any single verse or passage, we discern what it teaches through careful consideration of the language and context of the verse. We also filter it through what we know the Bible teaches elsewhere on the subject. In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9). So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation is a faulty interpretation. For more information, please visit our webpage “Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?

Regarding Mark 16:16, it is important to remember that there are some textual problems with Mark chapter 16, verses 9-20. There is some question as to whether these verses were originally part of the Gospel of Mark or whether they were added later by a scribe. As a result, it is best not to base a key doctrine on anything from Mark 16:9-20, such as snake handling, unless it is also supported by other passages of Scripture.

Assuming that verse 16 is original to Mark, does it teach that baptism is required for salvation? The short answer is, no, it does not. In order to make it teach that baptism is required for salvation, one must go beyond what the verse actually says. What this verse does teach is that belief is necessary for salvation, which is consistent with the countless verses where only belief is mentioned (e.g., John 3:18John 5:24John 12:44John 20:311 John 5:13).

“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). This verse is composed of two basic statements. 1—He who believes and is baptized will be saved. 2—He who does not believe will be condemned.

While this verse tells us something about believers who have been baptized (they are saved), it does not say anything about believers who have not been baptized. In order for this verse to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation, a third statement would be necessary, viz., “He who believes and is not baptized will be condemned” or “He who is not baptized will be condemned.” But, of course, neither of these statements is found in the verse.

Those who try to use Mark 16:16 to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation commit a common but serious mistake that is sometimes called the Negative Inference Fallacy. This is the rule to follow: “If a statement is true, we cannot assume that all negations (or opposites) of that statement are also true.” For example, the statement “a dog with brown spots is an animal” is true; however, the negative, “if a dog does not have brown spots, it is not an animal” is false. In the same way, “he who believes and is baptized will be saved” is true; however, the statement “he who believes but is not baptized will not be saved” is an unwarranted assumption. Yet this is exactly the assumption made by those who support baptismal regeneration.

Consider this example: “Whoever believes and lives in Kansas will be saved, but those that do not believe are condemned.” This statement is strictly true; Kansans who believe in Jesus will be saved. However, to say that only those believers who live in Kansas are saved is an illogical and false assumption. The statement does not say a believer must live in Kansas in order to go to heaven. Similarly, Mark 16:16 does not say a believer must be baptized. The verse states a fact about baptized believers (they will be saved), but it says exactly nothing about believers who have not been baptized. There may be believers who do not dwell in Kansas, yet they are still saved; and there may be believers who have not been baptized, yet they, too, are still saved.

The one specific condition required for salvation is stated in the second part of Mark 16:16: “Whoever does not believe will be condemned.” In essence, Jesus has given both the positive condition of belief (whoever believes will be saved) and the negative condition of unbelief (whoever does not believe will be condemned). Therefore, we can say with absolute certainty that belief is the requirement for salvation. More importantly, we see this condition restated positively and negatively throughout Scripture (John 3:16John 3:18John 3:36John 5:24John 6:53-54John 8:24Acts 16:31).

Jesus mentions a condition related to salvation (baptism) in Mark 16:16. But a related condition should not be confused with a requirement. For example, having a fever is related to being ill, but a fever is not required for illness to be present. Nowhere in the Bible do we find a statement such as “whoever is not baptized will be condemned.” Therefore, we cannot say that baptism is necessary for salvation based on Mark 16:16 or any other verse.

Does Mark 16:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation? No, it does not. It clearly establishes that belief is required for salvation, but it does not prove or disprove the idea of baptism being a requirement. How can we know, then, if one must be baptized in order to be saved? We must look to the full counsel of God’s Word. Here is a summary of the evidence:

1—The Bible is clear that we are saved by faith alone. Abraham was saved by faith, and we are saved by faith (Romans 4:1-25Galatians 3:6-22).

2—Throughout the Bible, in every dispensation, people have been saved without being baptized. Every believer in the Old Testament (e.g., Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon) was saved but not baptized. The thief on the cross was saved but not baptized. Cornelius was saved before he was baptized (Acts 10:44-46).

3—Baptism is a testimony of our faith and a public declaration that we believe in Jesus Christ. The Scriptures tell us that we have eternal life the moment we believe (John 5:24), and belief always comes before being baptized. Baptism does not save us any more than walking an aisle or saying a prayer saves us. We are saved when we believe.

4—The Bible never says that if one is not baptized then he is not saved.

5—If baptism were required for salvation, then no one could be saved without another party being present. Someone must be there to baptize a person before he can be saved. This effectively limits who can be saved and when he can be saved. The consequences of this doctrine, when carried to a logical conclusion, are devastating. For example, a soldier who believes on the battlefield but is killed before he can be baptized would go to hell.

6—Throughout the Bible we see that at the point of faith a believer possesses all the promises and blessings of salvation (John 1:123:165:246:4720:31Acts 10:4313:3916:31). When one believes, he has eternal life, does not come under judgment, and has passed from death into life (John 5:24)—all before he or she is baptized.

If you believe in baptismal regeneration, you would do well to prayerfully consider whom or what you are really putting your trust in. Is your faith in a physical act (being baptized) or in the finished work of Christ on the cross? Whom or what are you trusting for salvation? Is it the shadow (baptism) or the substance (Jesus Christ)? Our faith must rest in Christ alone. “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

Does 1 Peter 3:21 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

As with any single verse or passage, we discern what it teaches by first filtering it through what we know the Bible teaches on the subject at hand. In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9). So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation, is a faulty interpretation. For more information, please visit our webpage on “Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?

Those who believe that baptism is required for salvation are quick to use 1 Peter 3:21 as a “proof text,” because it states “baptism now saves you.” Was Peter really saying that the act of being baptized is what saves us? If he were, he would be contradicting many other passages of Scripture that clearly show people being saved (as evidenced by their receiving the Holy Spirit) prior to being baptized or without being baptized at all. A good example of someone who was saved before being baptized is Cornelius and his household in Acts 10. We know that they were saved before being baptized because they had received the Holy Spirit, which is the evidence of salvation (Romans 8:9Ephesians 1:131 John 3:24). The evidence of their salvation was the reason Peter allowed them to be baptized. Countless passages of Scripture clearly teach that salvation comes when one believes in the gospel, at which time he or she is sealed “in Christ with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13).

Thankfully, though, we don’t have to guess at what Peter means in this verse because he clarifies that for us with the phrase “not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience.” While Peter is connecting baptism with salvation, it is not the act of being baptized that he is referring to (not the removal of dirt from the flesh). Being immersed in water does nothing but wash away dirt. What Peter is referring to is what baptism represents, which is what saves us (an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ). In other words, Peter is simply connecting baptism with belief. It is not the getting wet part that saves but the “appeal to God for a clean conscience” which is signified by baptism, that saves us. The appeal to God always comes first. First belief and repentance, then we are baptized to publicly identify ourselves with Christ.

An excellent explanation of this passage is given by Dr. Kenneth Wuest, author of Word Studies in the Greek New Testament. “Water baptism is clearly in the apostle’s mind, not the baptism by the Holy Spirit, for he speaks of the waters of the flood as saving the inmates of the ark, and in this verse, of baptism saving believers. But he says that it saves them only as a counterpart. That is, water baptism is the counterpart of the reality, salvation. It can only save as a counterpart, not actually. The Old Testament sacrifices were counterparts of the reality, the Lord Jesus. They did not actually save the believer, only in type. It is not argued here that these sacrifices are analogous to Christian water baptism. The author is merely using them as an illustration of the use of the word ‘counterpart.’

“So water baptism only saves the believer in type. The Old Testament Jew was saved before he brought the offering. That offering was only his outward testimony that he was placing faith in the Lamb of God of whom these sacrifices were a type….Water baptism is the outward testimony of the believer’s inward faith. The person is saved the moment he places his faith in the Lord Jesus. Water baptism is the visible testimony to his faith and the salvation he was given in answer to that faith. Peter is careful to inform his readers that he is not teaching baptismal regeneration, namely, that a person who submits to baptism is thereby regenerated, for he says, ‘not the putting away of the filth of the flesh.’ Baptism, Peter explains, does not wash away the filth of the flesh, either in a literal sense as a bath for the body, nor in a metaphorical sense as a cleansing for the soul. No ceremonies really affect the conscience. But he defines what he means by salvation, in the words ‘the answer of a good conscience toward God,” and he explains how this is accomplished, namely, ‘by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,’ in that the believing sinner is identified with Him in that resurrection.”

Part of the confusion on this passage comes from the fact that in many ways the purpose of baptism as a public declaration of one’s faith in Christ and identification with Him has been replaced by “making a decision for Christ” or “praying a sinner’s prayer.” Baptism has been relegated to something that is done later. Yet to Peter or any of the first-century Christians, the idea that a person would confess Christ as his Savior and not be baptized as soon as possible would have been unheard of. Therefore, it is not surprising that Peter would see baptism as almost synonymous with salvation. Yet Peter makes it clear in this verse that it is not the ritual itself that saves, but the fact that we are united with Christ in His resurrection through faith, “the pledge of a good conscience toward God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

Therefore, the baptism that Peter says saves us is the one that is preceded by faith in the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ that justifies the unrighteous sinner (Romans 3:25-264:5). Baptism is the outward sign of what God has done “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Does John 3:5 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

As with any single verse or passage, we discern what it teaches by first filtering it through what we know the Bible teaches on the subject at hand. In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9). So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation, is a faulty interpretation. For more information, please visit our webpage on “Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?

John 3:3-7, “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and 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. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.'”

When first considering this passage, it is important to note that nowhere in the context of the passage is baptism even mentioned. While baptism is mentioned later in this chapter (John 3:22-30), that is in a totally different setting (Judea instead of Jerusalem) and at a different time from the discussion with Nicodemus. This is not to say Nicodemus was unfamiliar with baptism, either from the Jewish practice of baptizing Gentile converts to Judaism, or from John the Baptist’s ministry. However, simply reading these verses in context would give one no reason to assume Jesus was speaking of baptism, unless one was looking to read into the passage a preconceived idea or theology. To automatically read baptism into this verse simply because it mentions “water” is unwarranted.

Those who hold baptism to be required for salvation point to “born of water” as evidence. As one person has put it, “Jesus describes it and tells him plainly how—by being born of water and the Spirit. This is a perfect description of baptism! Jesus could not have given a more detailed and accurate explanation of baptism.” However, had Jesus actually wanted to say that one must be baptized to be saved, He clearly could have simply stated, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is baptized and born of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Further, if Jesus had made such a statement, He would have contradicted numerous other Bible passages that make it clear that salvation is by faith (John 3:16John 3:36Ephesians 2:8-9Titus 3:5).

We should also not lose sight of the fact that when Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, the ordinance of Christian baptism was not yet in effect. This important inconsistency in interpreting Scripture is seen when one asks those who believe baptism is required for salvation why the thief on the cross did not need to be baptized to be saved. A common reply to that question is: “The thief on the cross was still under the Old Covenant and therefore not subject to this baptism. He was saved just like anyone else under the Old Covenant.” So, in essence, the same people who say the thief did not need to be baptized because he was “under the Old Covenant” will use John 3:5 as “proof” that baptism is necessary for salvation. They insist that Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he must be baptized to be saved, even though he too was under the Old Covenant. If the thief on the cross was saved without being baptized (because he was under the Old Covenant), why would Jesus tell Nicodemus (who was also under the Old Covenant) that he needed to be baptized?

If “being born of water and the Spirit” is not referring to baptism, then what does it mean? Traditionally, there have been two interpretations of this phrase. The first is that being “born of water” is being used by Jesus to refer to natural birth (with water referring to the amniotic fluid that surrounds the baby in the womb) and that being born of the “Spirit” indicates spiritual birth. While that is certainly a possible interpretation of the term “born of water” and would seem to fit the context of Nicodemus’ question about how a man could be born “when he is old,” it is not the best interpretation given the context of this passage. After all, Jesus was not talking about the difference between natural birth and spiritual birth. What He was doing was explaining to Nicodemus his need to be “born from above” or “born again.”

The second common interpretation of this passage and the one that best fits the overall context, not only of this passage but of the Bible as a whole, is the one that sees the phrase “born of water and the Spirit” as both describing different aspects of the same spiritual birth, or of what it means to be “born again” or “born from above.” So, when Jesus told Nicodemus that he must “be born of water and the Spirit,” He was not referring to literal water (i.e. baptism or the amniotic fluid in the womb), but was referring to the need for spiritual cleansing or renewal. Throughout the Old Testament (Psalm 51:2,7Ezekiel 36:25) and the New Testament (John 13:1015:31 Corinthians 6:11Hebrews 10:22), water is often used figuratively of spiritual cleansing or regeneration that is brought forth by the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, at the moment of salvation (Ephesians 5:26Titus 3:5).

The Barclay Daily Study Bible describes this concept in this way: “There are two thoughts here. Water is the symbol of cleansing. When Jesus takes possession of our lives, when we love Him with all our heart, the sins of the past are forgiven and forgotten. The Spirit is the symbol of power. When Jesus takes possession of our lives it is not only that the past is forgotten and forgiven; if that were all, we might well proceed to make the same mess of life all over again; but into life there enters a new power which enables us to be what by ourselves we could never be and to do what by ourselves we could never do. Water and the Spirit stand for the cleansing and the strengthening power of Christ, which wipes out the past and gives victory in the future.”

Therefore, the “water” mentioned in this verse is not literal physical water but rather the “living water” Jesus promised the woman at the well in John 4:10 and the people in Jerusalem in John 7:37-39. It is the inward purification and renewal produced by the Holy Spirit that brings forth spiritual life to a dead sinner (Ezekiel 36:25-27Titus 3:5). Jesus reinforces this truth in John 3:7 when He restates that one must be born again and that this newness of life can only be produced by the Holy Spirit (John 3:8).

There are several reasons why this is the correct interpretation of the phrase born of water and the Spirit. First of all, we should note that Nicodemus found his literal interpretation of born again to be incomprehensible. He could not understand how a grown man could re-enter his mother’s womb and be “born again” physically (John 3:4). Jesus restates what He had just told Nicodemus, this time making a distinction between flesh and spirit (verse 6). Interestingly, the Greek word translated “again” or “anew” in John 3:3 and 7 has two possible meanings: the first one is “again,” and the second one is “from above.” “Born again,” “born from above,” and “born of water and Spirit” are three ways of saying the same thing.

Second, the grammar in John 3:5 would seem to indicate “being born of water” and “being born of the Spirit” are thought of as one action, not two. Therefore, it is not speaking of two separate births, as Nicodemus incorrectly thought, but of one birth, that of being “born from above” or the spiritual birth that is necessary for anyone to “see the kingdom of God.” This need for one to be “born again,” or to experience spiritual birth, is so important that Jesus tells Nicodemus of its necessity three different times in this passage of Scripture (John 3:33:53:7).

Third, water is often used symbolically in the Bible to refer to the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying a believer, whereby God cleanses and purifies the believer’s heart or soul. In many places in both the Old and New Testaments, the work of the Holy Spirit is compared to water (Isaiah 44:3John 7:38-39).

Jesus rebukes Nicodemus in John 3:10 by asking him: “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?” This implies that what Jesus had just told him was something Nicodemus should have known and understood from the Old Testament. What is it that Nicodemus, as a teacher of the Old Testament, should have known and understood? It is that God had promised in the Old Testament a time was coming in which He would: “sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27). Jesus rebuked Nicodemus because he failed to recall and understand one of the key Old Testament passages pertaining to the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:33). Nicodemus should have been expecting this. Why would Jesus have rebuked Nicodemus for not understanding baptism considering the fact that baptism is nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament?

While this verse does not teach baptism is required for salvation, we should be careful not to neglect baptism’s importance. Baptism is the sign or the symbol for what takes place when one is born again. Baptism’s importance should not be downplayed or minimized. However, baptism does not save us. What saves us is the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit, when we are born again and regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).

Does Acts 22:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

As with any single verse or passage, we discern what it teaches by first filtering it through what we know the Bible teaches on the subject at hand. In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9). So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation, is a faulty interpretation. For more information, please visit our webpage on “Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?

Acts 22:16, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” The first question that must be answered is “when was Paul saved?”

1. Paul tells that he did not receive or hear the Gospel from Ananias, but rather he heard it directly from Christ. Galatians 1:11-12 says, “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” So, Paul heard and believed in Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul had already believed in Christ when Ananias came to pray for him to receive his sight (Acts 9:17).

2. It also should be noted that, at the time when Ananias prayed for him to receive his sight, Paul also received the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17)—this was before he was baptized (Acts 9:18). Acts presents a transition period where God’s focus turns from Israel to the Church. The events recorded in Acts are not always normative. With regard to receiving the Holy Spirit, the norm is that a person receives and is permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation.

3. The Greek aorist participle, epikalesamenos, translated “calling on His name” refers either to action that is simultaneous with or before that of the main verb, “be baptized.” Here Paul’s calling on Christ’s name for salvation preceded his water baptism. The participle may be translated “having called on His name” which makes more sense, as it would clearly indicate the order of the events.

4. Concerning the words, “be baptized, and wash away your sins,” because Paul was already cleansed spiritually at the time Christ appeared to him, these words must refer to the symbolism of baptism. Baptism is a picture of God’s inner work of washing away sin (1 Corinthians 6:111 Peter 3:21).

5. It is also interesting that when Paul recounted this event again later in Acts (Acts 26:12-18), he did not mention Ananias or what Ananias said to him at all. Verse 18 again would confirm the idea that Paul received Christ as Savior on the road to Damascus since here Christ is telling Paul he will be a messenger for Him concerning forgiveness of sins for Gentiles as they have faith in Him. It would seem unlikely that Christ would commission Paul if Paul had not yet believed in Him.

Does Galatians 3:27 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?

Groups that believe that baptism is necessary for salvation often turn to Galatians 3:27 as one of their “proof texts” for the view that baptism is necessary for salvation. In doing so they are ignoring the context of the passage as well as the overall context of Scripture to try to force their pre-conceived theological view on this passage.

In order to determine if this passage really supports baptismal regeneration, one simply needs to read the immediate context to know that it does not. The overall context of Galatians is centered on Paul’s rebuke that some of the Galatians were turning from the one true gospel to another false gospel that could not save them (Galatians 1:6-10). The false gospel they were embracing was one that mixed God’s grace with works of the law, including circumcision, as a requirement for being saved, much like those who add baptism as a requirement for salvation. Paul’s message in Galatians is very, very clear—we are justified not “by the works of the law but by faith in Christ” (Galatians 2:16). This context of justification by faith alone in Christ alone is seen throughout the first three chapters of Galatians and is reinforced in Galatians 3:26, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” This verse, along with all other passages of Scripture dealing with salvation, makes it clear that salvation is “through faith in Christ Jesus,” and since, for baptism to have any meaning at all, it must always be preceded by faith, we can know that it is faith in Christ that saves us not the baptism that follows faith. While baptism is important as a way of identifying us with Christ, it only has meaning if it comes from saving faith which always comes first.

Galatians 3:27 says, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Is there any reason from the context of this passage to assume that this is speaking of water baptism? The obvious answer is no. There is no contextual evidence on which to draw that conclusion. We know from Scripture that there is more than one type of baptism taught in the New Testament (Hebrews 6:2), so why should it be assumed this is speaking of water baptism? The question we need to answer from Scripture is, “How do we get baptized into Christ?” Or another way of asking it is “what makes a person a Christian?” Or maybe, “What is the single most important difference between a Christian and a non-Christian?” The answer to these questions is found in Romans 8:9, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not his.”

Scripture is very clear that the determining factor for whether or not one is a Christian is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. With that truth in mind let’s look at another passage that speaks of being “baptized” into Christ. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all be made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). What is it that makes one a Christian? It is being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. What baptism is it that puts us into Christ or makes us a part of Christ’s body? It is the baptism “by one Spirit.” Clearly, the baptism that 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 and Galatians 3:27 are speaking of is not water baptism at all. It is the baptism of the Holy Spirit whereby we are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13-14) and are made part of Christ’s body as we are indwelt by His Holy Spirit. Jesus promised His disciples before He left them that He would send them “another helper,” the Holy Spirit who “dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-18).

The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is what baptizes us into the body of Christ, as seen clearly in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. John the Baptist prophesied that, while he was sent to “baptize with water,” Jesus was the One who would “baptize with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33-34). It is that baptism, the point that we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that “baptizes” us into the body of Christ. Galatians 3:27 is not referring to water baptism at all. Water baptism is symbolic of what is accomplished when we are baptized into one body by one Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is what matters. When we receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit as promised by Christ is when we become part of the body of Christ or are “baptized into Christ.” Those who try to force baptismal regeneration into Galatians 3:27 have no scriptural grounds for doing so.

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