Does Mark 16:16 Teach Baptism is an Essential Condition for Salvation?

opened-bibleAnd Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16). -New American Standard Bible 

The Scripture plainly states, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Easy enough? Case Solved? Nope. Theologians like to complicate the perspicuity or clarity of Scripture by telling common folk this was not the author’s intent. They may explain this passage away with theological jargon, reject Mark 16 as canonical, or tell you the original language Greek denies it.

Since theologians assume you aren’t likely to open up a Greek-English Lexicon to prove them wrong, the conversation usually ends there. In fact, whoever told you baptism is not necessary for salvation was probably told the same thing by a pastor, mentor, or professor he or she trusted.

For these reasons, it’s crucial to mimic the Bereans by examining what you are told in light of God’s word (Acts 17:11). In this essay, I want to lay out arguments from both sides so you can discern truth from error.

Theologians who argue against baptism as a necessary component for salvation usually start out by saying,”While Scripture seems to indicate belief and baptism are necessary for salvation, this is not what Mark meant.” Their reasoning lies in the difference between the first clause and the second clause of the sentence.

E. Calvin Beisner, professor at Knox Theological Seminary, made this statement: “While the first clause says that all who both believe and are baptized will be saved, it does not say that all who neither believe nor are baptized will not be saved. In other words, the clause does not exclude any group, while it does tell of a group of people who will be saved, namely, those who both believe and are baptized. But the second clause negates one group: those who do not believe will not be saved. There is no negation of the group of those who believe but are not baptized. Thus, while the verse as a whole does teach that belief is essential to salvation, it does not teach that baptism is.”

To summarize, professor Beisner is arguing that baptism is not an essential condition since it’s omitted from the latter part of this passage. But think about it for a moment. If one doesn’t believe, do you think they will get baptized? For example, if I say, “He who turns on his TV and tunes in to channel 5 will see the program; he who refuses to turn on his TV will miss the program.” If the person doesn’t turn on the TV, do I need to also tell him not to tune into channel 5? No, because not turning on the TV will prevent the person from going to the channel in the first place. Therefore, arguing the omission of baptism in the second clause proves it’s not necessary is a weak argument.

The second most common argument against baptism is to suggest Mark 16:9-20 did not appear in the best of the manuscripts of the New Testament. Because it appears in late manuscripts, it should not be used as proof of doctrine. While it is true that Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus do not have this passage, Codex Alexandrius and Bezae do, and both are early manuscripts from about AD 350. Also, I side with Metzger’s third view: the Gospel accidentally lost its last leaf before it was multiplied by transcription.

The third argument against baptism as being part of the gospel is the fear its adding works to the gospel, which would violate justification by faith alone in Christ alone. First, baptism is not a work of man, but a work of God (Col. 2:11-13). Jesus applies his atoning blood to us personally and raises us from spiritual death (Rom. 6:3). There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. Second, it’s not a command, but rather a promise. When we call upon the name of the Lord during baptism, He is the one saving us (Acts 22:16) and rescuing us from the flood of judgment (1 Pet. 3:21), not ourselves. Third, Mark 16 reveals that baptism and faith are synonymous since both are linked together so closely in this context.

In conclusion, I would encourage you to research the subject of baptism. There are many views out there, but Scripture must be the authority. Other passages to consider are Acts 2:38-42, Acts 22:16, Rom. 6:4-6, Gal. 3:27, Col. 2:11-13, and 1 Pet. 3:21. Read each passage in its context and I would encourage you to read the Greek. The original language actually strengthens the argument for baptism being necessary for salvation. I believe once people view baptism as a visualization of faith rather than an act of obedience, they will begin to see it more clearly. Please feel free to disagree in the comments below. Have a blessed day!

12 comments

  1. What do I think Mark 16:16 is saying? I believe it is saying that if one believes he will be baptized, but if he does not believe he will be condemned.

    First, you said…”But think about it for a moment. If one doesn’t believe, do you think they will get baptized?…Therefore, arguing the omission of baptism in the second clause proves it’s not necessary is a weak argument.” Actually, I do believe that a person will allow himself to be baptized if he doesn’t truly believe, that is, if his conversion was a false one and baptism was thought to be the primary tool of effect. For example, my own daughter, when she was young, once complained, “Why won’t you let me get baptized? I don’t want to go to hell!” She understood her sinfulness, to a degree, but not what it actually meant to put her faith in Jesus Christ for salvation…she assumed by what she had witnessed that it was the baptism that actually sealed the deal…she knew nothing of repentance and faith. But at least she was on the right track, hallelujah! She did finally receive Christ AND she was baptized 🙂

    Now, let me quote something you said and follow with an alternative.

    You said… “If the person doesn’t turn on the TV, do I need to also tell him not to tune into channel 5? No, because not turning on the TV will prevent the person from going to the channel in the first place. Therefore, arguing the omission of baptism in the second clause proves it’s not necessary is a weak argument.”

    The following is not mine, but copied from GotQuestions.org. I thought it was worth quoting.

    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. – GotQuestions.org

    Now, you did also include several other verses which on the surface seem to support your conclusion about Mark 16:16. However, each one of those could also be debated as to whether or not they too teach water baptism is necessary for salvation. For example, for the Jews, baptism was a common expression of turning from one life to another, as when a Gentile would die to his old self and raise up out of the water a proselyte to Judaism. Peter was speaking to Jews attending the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2:38-42, so I think the context of the audience should be taken into consideration.

    As for Acts 22:16, do you think Saul was not actually saved up until the point where he was baptized? Other passages that speak of “baptism” are not, I believe, speaking of literal immersion in water, such as with Galatians 3:27 (the same language is used in 1 Cor. 10:2 where it says, “And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and the sea.”)

    If, Mark 16:16 is saying what you suggest, then it must harmonize with many other passages that do NOT suggest baptism as a necessary part of salvation. Examples: John 3:16, 18, 38; 5:24; 6:53-54; 8:24; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:1-25; 1 John 5:13, and others.

    Then, of course, there are people like the thief on the cross and a lady who died in our church to consider. Jesus promised the thief on the cross that “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He wasn’t baptized. The lady in my church actually had a heart attack and died walking up the steps to the pool…did she therefore die lost? Also, are bedside conversions totally useless? How many have gotten saved in hospitals, only to die there without ever getting baptized? Are they all lost?

    What about Acts 10:44-48? Here there were people on whom the Holy Ghost fell, they spoke in other tongues – a sign that the gospel had come to the gentiles – and yet they had not been baptized. Would God have done that to these people before conversion? That would seem totally illogical.

    And lastly – because this has been a very long response – I would like to consider the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. In verse 30 he asks, ““Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” What is the response from Paul? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (v31). No mention of baptism. It was only AFTER this that this converted jailer took them and “washed their stripes,” THEN “he and his family were baptized” (v33).

    So, that is my response. It is not exhaustive. I don’t claim to be a Greek scholar. But this is what I believe.

    1. Thank you Anthony for your well-articulated response. First, I would not classify my position as baptismal regeneration since it implies an ex opera operate view equated with Roman Catholicism. I don’t believe the act of water baptism “exclusively” causes regeneration. Faith and repentance are necessary conditions preceding water baptism. So then, faith, repentance, and water baptism doesn’t save us. It is God who saves. The question really is, “When does he save us?”

      Furthermore, I would never baptize an infant because (1). They are not at the age of accountability to be personally responsible for their sins (2). While faith is easy to understand, even for a child, an infant doesn’t have the cognitive ability to believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

      Thus, if a person gets baptized but doesn’t truly believe, God is not going to apply His atoning work at that moment. As Peter makes it clear, baptism is the timing in which God saves, but not because of the water, or the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an “appeal to God for a good conscience.” I agree with Martin Luther, who was the main proponent of justification by faith. He said this concerning baptism: “that faith must have something in which it believes, that is, something it clings to, and something on which to plant its feet and into which to sink its roots. Thus faith clings to the water and believes baptism to be something in which there is pure salvation and life, not through the water, as I have emphasized enough, but because God’s name is joined to it…It follows from this that whoever rejects baptism rejects God’s word.”

      You said: If, Mark 16:16 is saying what you suggest, then it must harmonize with many other passages that do NOT suggest baptism as a necessary part of salvation. Examples: John 3:16, 18, 38; 5:24; 6:53-54; 8:24; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:1-25; 1 John 5:13, and others.

      First, you are assuming John 3:16 is allegorical, a spirit baptism. This is a relatively new teaching post-Zwingli in the Protestant Reformation. The common interpretation of the early church was the Greek word “laver”, which meant water baptism. For instance, here is a quote from the early church Father Irenaeus. He said: “And dipped himself,” says [the Scripture], “seven times in Jordan.” (2 Kings 5:14) It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [it served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: “Unless a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (John 3:5) (Fragments, 34).

      You said: Then, of course, there are people like the thief on the cross and a lady who died in our church to consider. Jesus promised the thief on the cross that “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He wasn’t baptized. The lady in my church actually had a heart attack and died walking up the steps to the pool…did she therefore die lost? Also, are bedside conversions totally useless? How many have gotten saved in hospitals, only to die there without ever getting baptized? Are they all lost?

      The thief on the cross was saved before the new covenantal promise like all other OT saints. For instance, By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. These OT saints were indeed saved by their faith, but they didn’t have the new revelation of who Jesus was at that time.

      For instance, Job didn’t know about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but He trusted in a redeemer. Abraham didn’t believe the sacrificial system would save him, but he knew it pointed to something much greater than the system (The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world).

      After Jesus rises from the dead, He gives a new command: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, the thief was still under the old dispensation, not the new. It isn’t until after the Great commission when baptism is implemented. As Acts 2:38-42 makes clear, “What must we do to be saved?” Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

      You said: As for Acts 22:16, do you think Saul was not actually saved up until the point where he was baptized? Other passages that speak of “baptism” are not, I believe, speaking of literal immersion in water, such as with Galatians 3:27 (the same language is used in 1 Cor. 10:2 where it says, “And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and the sea.”)

      In Acts 22:16, Saul is told to do something. Ananias tells him to, “get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” If Saul was spiritually baptized already and water baptism was an “external sign” of an inward grace, then why would Saul mention “washing away your sins” during the timing of water baptism?

      I would agree with you that our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ, not by the water. But I don’t separate water and spirit baptism. As Ephesians 4:5 clearly states there is one faith, one lord, and one baptism. Both of us would agree with the mode of baptism as symbolizing the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Right? What you are saying is the symbol doesn’t happen at the same time as the actual? You would argue spirit baptism happens first, then later, we are water baptized to demonstrate what has already occurred. I just don’t see any Scripture warrant for that.

      If you look at the context of Acts 22:16, Saul is calling on the name shortly before he is water baptized. He is asking God, just like Peter mentions in 1 Pet. 3:21, to save him by his grace. He is calling on the name of the Lord. When do we call on the name of the Lord? When we are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28; Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16).

      Only then does Romans 10:13 makes sense: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” When do we call on the name? During the sinner’s prayer or during baptism? There is no mention of asking Jesus into your heart for salvation, but there are verses that tell us to repent and be baptized. To call on his name to be saved, and the great commission nicely parallels that since we know we are baptized into the “name of Christ,” into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Sprit.

      You said: What about Acts 10:44-48? Here there were people on whom the Holy Ghost fell, they spoke in other tongues – a sign that the gospel had come to the gentiles – and yet they had not been baptized. Would God have done that to these people before conversion? That would seem totally illogical.

      What is the point of Acts 10? To demonstrate that the promise was also given to the Gentiles. Peter was struggling in his vision between unclean and clean animals, but then God gave him a vision that even the Gentiles are called to salvation.” Then he says to Cornelius what is permitting him now from being baptized just as they were? God gave a visible sign to Peter to fulfill the prophecy in Joel 3 and to include both Jew and Gentile to the new promise, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Now Peter has no excuse but to “baptize them in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).

      You said: “And lastly – because this has been a very long response – I would like to consider the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. In verse 30 he asks, ““Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” What is the response from Paul? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (v31). No mention of baptism. It was only AFTER this that this converted jailer took them and “washed their stripes,” THEN “he and his family were baptized” (v33).”

      This is an interesting verse. The Grace Evangelical Society, which is part of the “faith only” movement, says that repentance should not be included in the gospel. Their reasoning is that repentance is not mentioned. Only faith. Only believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. That’s it. But of course, you and I know there are other verses in Scripture that call people to “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Verses that teach “Repent and be baptized”. Even if you exclude baptism as a necessary condition, you have to include repentance because it comes before the Greek word “eis.” If it comes before eis, which is motion toward, then repentance is prior to salvation. Taking this verse in isolation, I could argue only faith saves, but Scripture must interpret Scripture.

      Moreover, that “same day” the Philippian jailer went to his house, and as the disciples were sharing more about the gospel, he and his whole household got baptized. What’s really significant is after baptism, the Scripture says this: “And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.”

      Rejoicing oftentimes is related to salvation. The same thing happened to the Ethiopian eunuch. He was told the gospel, and then without any further inquiry, he asks: “What is permitting me from being baptized?” This demonstrates baptism was included in the gospel message. Second, the text makes it clear this is water baptism. He is asking to be baptized in the river, a physical location. And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. He went on his way rejoicing after he was baptized.

      You said: Other passages that speak of “baptism” are not, I believe, speaking of literal immersion in water, such as with Galatians 3:27.

      In the book of Galatians, the Judaizers were rebuked by the Apostle Paul for adding physical circumcision to the gospel. They are telling Gentile believers one must be “circumcised” in order to be saved.

      Paul writes in Galatians 3:26-27: So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

      If baptism were equivalent to circumcision, why does Paul still mention baptism as necessary to become united into Christ? Wouldn’t it have been better for him to say: “Look, people are also telling you one must be baptized in order to be part of the church just like they are doing with circumcision. Ignore these people. All one must do to be saved is “repent and have faith.” But he doesn’t say that and it would have been a perfect analogy since circumcision was the “covenantal rite” to become Jewish.

      Anthony, I appreciate your feedback. I think you make some good points, and I would encourage you to continue seeking the truth. The important distinction between you and us is not whether we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. You include repentance and faith whereas I include repentance, faith, and baptism. The biggest disagreement is the “timing” in which we are “converted.” Does it happen when we have faith? When he have faith and are in the state of repenting?

      The analogy I have used in the past is this. Let’s say Joe has a desire to marry Cindy. Joe trusts that Cindy is the right woman for him. He has promised to forsake all other women for Cindy. He wants to be married. When does he become married? It’s not until the ceremony. Does the ceremony cause the two to become one flesh? Of course not. Only God has the ability to bring two together in a spiritual sense. But I am saying that the actual marriage and the spiritual reality don’t happen at two separate instances. They happen at the same time. And that is what divides the church on the issue concerning baptism. Have a great day sir!

      1. You know, just because my response was long, that doesn’t mean you had to write a dissertation 😉

        When I have a little time I’ll read it more carefully. Thanks for the time.

  2. After 40 years of study (and I say this to my shame rather than to boast) I was still studying this issue asking God to give me a definitive one way or the other answer. But God has given me peace over it. Allow me to explain using two male acquaintances. One believes baptism is essential for salvation, and the other avowed it was a work and that we are saved through faith alone. Well, both of them are Christians, and things began to get a little heated in their debate. God led me to join in and speak something. And what I said surprised me more than anyone. I asked one of them, “Have you been baptized?” He answered, “Yes, of course.” Then I asked the other man, “Have you been baptized?” He answered, “Of course I have.” Each of them, even though they attended different congregations, said that their church does teach their people that they are to be baptized. That’s when I began to wonder at this divisive phenomenon. Today, I avoid the controversy all together by teaching God’s word and leading others to faith in Jesus Christ and avowing that they are to be baptized into Christ and His church (One baptism). Whether baptism is a work or whether it is simply faith does not matter once we have been baptized. Either way we teach baptism. So often theologians are in grave jeopardy of a particular sin: “the pride of intellect” concerning their years of study. But one thing my years of study have taught me is that I know very little, as my following poem written 30 years ago suggests.

    “Bottomless Well”
    Upon the slope of knowledge grand
    A struggle up – A fight to stand
    Upon a tilted sea
    Of shifty sand

    For all I know I pray to show
    The lessons once I’d learned
    On the lathe of life
    Through time and strife
    Re-shaped them as they turned

    The wisdom on a hoary head
    A mysterious fact to fathom
    The more we grow
    The need to know
    Is a perpetually widening chasm

    Oh the depth of omniscience
    Perfection in a faultless mind
    Impressing on my conscience
    A sea of wealth to find

    Acuity is sharpened
    Perception takes deeper tones
    A living breathing well of thought
    Gives life to these old bones

    The spirit of the living God
    Residing in the heart
    Approving with a smiling nod
    His wisdom to impart

    1. Sheldon, what a masterful poem. Thanks for sharing your heart. I believe after 40 years of ministry, it demonstrates your humility, grace, and desire to see Christ glorified. I do agree with your statement. The church gets divisive over baptism, but if we would listen to each other more, there wouldn’t be as much division.

      When people ask me whether I am a Calvinist or an Arminian, I just simply respond: I believe in God’s sovereignty and man’s human responsibility, and leave it at that. Since baptism is a relatively new view for me, I liken myself to a hyper seminary student trying to argue my position.

      Thanks for encouraging me to have a humble attitude about this doctrine. Have a great day and may God continue to bless your ministry brother!

  3. Chad, I haven’t forgotten. I have set aside today to do some particular reading on the subject and better equip myself for discussion. One reason is that I will be having to cover it in Acts 3 in upcoming seminary lectures, so…. better to refresh now than later, right?

  4. I was reading over your comment and found something that needs clarification. You said that I assumed John 3:16 to be allegorical. How did I do that, exactly? Are you saying that “believeth in him” is supposed to be my way of suggesting that the “in” part is the equivalent of literal water baptism?

  5. I am sorry, when I read through your argument my mind had the verse John 3:3-5 about being “born again” not John 3:16. Your point was “whoever believes” will not perish. Are you saying belief is the only necessary condition for salvation? What about verses that include repentance. Would you say repentance is not necessary either?

    In the context of that chapter 3, Nicodemus was just told how to enter into the kingdom of God. He must be born again. My point was some interpret the phrase “water and spirit” as allegorical, not water baptism. They would allude to Isaiah 44:3 and John 7 to make a case for this position. However, I would argue John uses only the bare and unqualified term water, whereas in John 4:10-14 and John 7:37-39, he speaks of the Spirit as “living water,” which is to be taken allegorically.

    I also wanted to clarify about the thief on the cross. My point about Abel, Abraham and other OT saints is that their faith was demonstrated by their action. For instance, Abel offered a more worthy sacrifice than Cain, and his action demonstrated his faith. However, he was not told to believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ because special revelation hadn’t been given to him. Similarly, the thief on the cross didn’t know all the specifics about Jesus and His resurrection, for it had not yet come. But He knew he was a sinner and was trusting in Jesus to save Him just like Job knew His redeemer “lives.”

    In the NT, baptism is a sign of faith. Abraham wasn’t saved by obeying God, but his obedience demonstrated his faith. Similarly, when we are baptized, it is a sign of our faith that we truly believe. God doesn’t call us to animal sacrifices anymore. He calls us to trust in the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. And in the NT dispensation, we demonstrate our trusting in Him by being baptized into “his name” and repenting of sin. That was my point. Sorry if it wasn’t clear.

    Anytime I see baptism, I think of faith. Not a work. So therefore, all the passages you mentioned fit well with the interpretation of being saved by faith in Christ. I just don’t believe that faith is alone, similar to what James said in 2:24: “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” Of course, our works don’t save us, only the blood of Christ. But our works reveal we truly believe.

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