Water Baptism

by Jerry Shugart

I will now address verses that are often quoted in an effort to prove that submitting to the rite of water baptism is necessary for salvation.

Mark 16:16

"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mk.16:16).

Here the Lord is not saying that a requirement for salvation is baptism with water, but instead He is describing those who will be saved. This is similiar to the following words of the Lord:

"And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (Mt.19:29).

Here the Lord says that those who have forsaken their families will receive everlasting life, but surely no one will argue that this is a requirement for salvation. Instead, the Lord is merely describing many who will be saved. Therefore we can understand that at Mark 16:16 the Lord Jesus is merely describing those who will be saved. The words which follow Mark 16:16 demonstrate that the Lord is "describing" those who will be saved:

"And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover" (Mk.16:17-18).

Now let us look at the following passage:

"And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him" (Lk.7:29-30).

John D. Grassmick writes, "Though the New Testament writers generally assume that under normal circumstances each believer will be baptized, 16:16 does not mean that baptism is a necessary requirement for personal salvation. The second half of the verse indicates by contrast that one who does not believe the gospel will be condemned by God (implied) in the day of final judgment (cf. 9:43-48). The basis for condemnation is unbelief, not the lack of any ritual observance...Thus the only requirement for personally appropriating God's salvation is faith in Him" (Walvoord & Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary; New Testament [Chariot Victor Publishing, 1983], p.196).

If both "faith" and being "baptized with water" are requirements for salvation then the Lord Jesus would have said:

"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned and he that is baptized not shall be damned.".

But that is not what He said.

Titus 3:5

"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).

Some Christians say that the words "washing of regeneration" in this verse are in regard to water baptism and therefore this verse is teaching baptismal regeneration. Let us look at Titus 3:5 again and notice the Greek word that is translated "washing":

"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing(loutron) of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).

Sir Robert Anderson writes, "The word rendered 'washing' is a noun, not a verb. This loutron is, strictly speaking, not the washing, but the vessel which contains the water. Certain expositors of course wish to read it 'font' or 'laver' ; but this is a false exegesis. The New Testament is written in the language of the Septuagint version of the Old; and we turn to that authority to settle for us the meaning of any doubtful term...And for this purpose the Apocryphal books are sometimes as useful as the sacred Scriptures. Now, loutron is not the rendering for 'laver' in the Greek version. The LXX use it twice; namely in Cant. iv. 2 (where it is the washing place for sheep); and in Ecclesiasticus XXX1. 25, where the Son of Sirach writes: 'He that washeth himself after the touching of a dead body, if he touch it again what avails his loutron?' "

"This last passage is of the very highest importance here, and gives us the clew we are in search of. The reference is to one of the principal ordinances of the Mosaic ritual - a type, moreover, which fills a large place in New Testament doctrine - especially in Hebrews - namely, the great sin-offering as connected with 'the water of purification' (Numb. xix.)" (Anderson, The Bible or the Church?, [London: Pickering and Inglis, Second Edition], pp.225-225).

The Jew became "unclean" or defiled if he touched a dead body (Num.19:11). The way to be cleansed was provided under the law, and that way was by the sin-offering of the red heifer (Num.19:2). That sin-offering was killed and then the corpse was burned. Then water that flowed over those ashes was sprinkled upon the defiled person and in that way he became purified (Num.19:17-19).

Here Sir Robert Anderson explains the meaning of the "type" of the "water": "How could the defiled Israelite gain access to the sacrifice of the great sin-offering for purification? Water which had flowed over the ashes of the sacrifice was sprinkled upon him. We know what the sacrifice typified, what did the water typify? What is the means by which the defiled sinner is brought into contact, as it were, with the great sin-offering of Calvary? By 'the word of the truth of the Gospel' " (Ibid., pp.226-227).

The following verse demonstrates the validity of Anderson's statement:

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing (loutron) of water by the word" (Eph.5:26).