Question Of The Week

Due to the nature of this question. the complete text of Mark 16:1-20 is included


Question: I need your advice on what to do in a complicated subject. Someone told me that you have to be baptized in order to be saved. I have told them this untrue, that you only have to confess with you mouth and believe with your heart that Jesus is Lord...They continue to argue, and even brought me literature on having to be baptized in order to be saved. She told me that Jesus even said so in Mark 16:16, I just think that they are misinterpreting it. I know what is true and what the Bible says, but this is the first time I have been challenged (over and over again...) on what I believe. Just wanted to know what you think and how I should handle the situation. Thanks so much!!!

Answer: For one, most all Bibles will either tell you that Mark 16, after verse 8, is not part of the original text, or leave it out altogether because the case is very strong that it isn't meant to be included as Scripture. It was probably added around 200 AD, and is not in ancient manuscripts, and evangelical scholars agree it probably is not original. How did it get there in some manuscripts? One likely scenario: it seems people were uncomfortable with the gospel of Mark ending so "abruptly" and felt they had to "help God out" by adding an ending with an "official" great commission. It was also a chance for folks in the 200s to sneak their pet doctrine (heresy) into the Bible: baptism as essential to salvation. By the way, you notice there are other problems with Mark 16: 9 and following: for example, it issues a blanket promise that we can drink poison and handle snakes. When someone quotes 16:16 as proof text for salvation in baptism, ask if they believe that.
However, if someone wants to argue that Mark 16:16 is scripture, you can still show from that verse in context that baptism is not required for salvation. Notice it says: "he who believes and is baptized will be saved. he who does not believe will be condemned." What is very conspicuous by its absence is what it does NOT say (and what you would expect it to say to keep the sentence and thought parallel). It does NOT say "he who does not believe and IS NOT BAPTIZED is condemned."

When someone argues strongly for baptism too strongly like this, I would start by complimenting them and honoring them for making a big deal about baptism, because we (evangelicals/Third Wavers/Third Day types) usually don't make a big enough deal about it. Here I think is the point, which helps interpret 16:16: There are four "items" in the salvation "package" that God wants us all to "get": repentance, accepting Christ (salvation proper), baptism and the Holy Spirit. Whenever one of these things is mentioned in Scripture, the other three are implied as being so connected that they can't really be separated. Now the normal "order" for receiving these four is: repentance, then salvation, then baptism, then Holy Spirit filling.

     But you find God and the Bible (particularly Acts) being flexible, Spiritaneous, grace-shaped and "out of the box" enough to let these happen in any order. And we all know people who were saved AFTER baptism. In Acts 19, we meet Ephesians.

Of course the classic Scripture to counter the false teaching that baptism is absolutely required to be saved is the thief on the cross. Jesus boldly and unflinchingly promised that this repentant thief would be in paradise. But was he baptized? Obviously not.. Of course, we assume that if he had gotten off the cross and lived longer, he would have been. That's the point: baptism is not required for salvation, but it is so closely connected to it that it should always follow unless there are highly unusual circumstances. Certainly the context of Scripture is salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-120) and not by works...including baptism.
Sometimes these folks like to quote 1 Peter 3:21, after you have explained Mark 16:16. So be prepared to go there. It actually says "baptism now saves you." Wow. Sounds like they have a case. But I think the argument above that baptism (symbol) is so close to the reality (accepting Christ) that sometimes the symbol refers to the reality. And the context of that scripture reveals the main reason Peter uses the phrase baptism. because he is comparing our salvation with Noah's "baptism" in the ark/flood.. verses 20-21 make that extremely clear. And if there is any doubt, v.. 21 clarifies that salvation is appropriated through Christ's resurrection alone.

      One last note as a reminder on how Scriptures that LOOK like they are requiring baptism for salvation to be legal are actually showing how ideally the four components of the salvation experience are connected and almost instantaneous. Acts 2: 38 says "Repent, and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins." Why doesn't he say "accept Christ" or even "be saved"? He doesn't have to. After preaching about salvation, the hearers realize that accepting Christ alone for salvation is implied even when not specifically mentioned. In the NT, one cannot mention repentance (which technically and usually comes before the accepting of Christ) and baptism (which usually comes after) without the understanding that the salvation experience of receiving Christ is the center of that experience. One should read "Repent..(and accept Christ)...and be baptized, for the forgiveness of sins (which happens on accepting Christ).