Its Mode, its Meaning,

its Madness

By Jeff Paton

With all of the important issues than divides the Church of Christ, baptism is one of the most destructive. In some circles, membership is determined by the mode in which someone gets baptized. In other arenas, baptism and inclusion into the body of Christ becomes a requirement for salvation, and not just membership alone. If this issue is as important as many have made it to be, then we must give it an honest evaluation to see what impact the doctrine has on the matters of salvation, grace, and charity.

 Are we saved by faith, or faith and baptism? In this matter, some groups have fallen from grace as many of the Galatians did. The apostle Paul wrote to people such as these, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” And, “Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”


Immersion Baptism is Essential to Salvation


To start the discussion on the subject of baptism, we will start with one of the greatest heresies to have permeated the realm of Christian thought, which is called Baptismal Regeneration; or in other words, you must be baptized in order to be saved. No baptism by water, no salvation. To say that salvation is hinged upon the amount of water, or by a certain mode, or its application by a specially qualified person, is unequivocally not the Gospel of Christ! Some have replaced the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in the work of Jesus Christ by adding personal works to the equation. If these direct statements cause you offense because you believe that water baptism is essential to your salvation, keep in mind that you are not the first person to slip in the creek of baptismal waters. I too was hoodwinked by this seductive doctrine early on in my walk with Christ. Thankfully, friends were patient enough to walk me through an examination of the Scriptures as a whole, which brought me to a deliverance from this error. I believe that through the same examination, anyone with an open and honest heart will conclude that there is an infinite distance between faith in Christ, and faith in water for salvation.

Throughout this article, I hope to give the reader a general overview of many of the issues that are raised by those who demand an exclusive mode of baptism. The first issue that will be discussed is the imbalanced and heretical view of Baptismal Regeneration. Baptismal Regeneration is the doctrine that teaches that regeneration, or the new-birth, does not occur until the believer is properly baptized into water, by the correct method. What this is saying is, if you have not been baptized by immersion, you cannot be a born-again believer. You are lost in your sins. The only way of salvation that is available to you is to obey the “gospel” of immersion “for” the remission of sins.

 As you can probably see, this denies salvation to anyone that does not meet the requirement of exclusive immersion baptism. This would exclude that vast majority of those believers that are saved by faith, not only today, but throughout all of history. It emphatically denies that certain evangelists, such as John and Charles Wesley, were lost and heathen men. The irony is, those whom God has used in what is perhaps the greatest revival since Pentecost, according to the Baptismal Regenerationists, were not Christians!

 This accusation should be given the utmost attention, for if what they say concerning baptism is true, then the eternal salvation of mankind is at stake! Many that believe that they are Christians, whose lives have been radically changed through faith, have somehow been deceived into believing that God has done this work, and that they are part of the Body of Christ apart from exclusive baptism by immersion! If immersion baptism is essential to salvation, then what most people believe to be the Gospel – salvation by grace through faith, and not of works – is a lie, a false and dangerous “gospel.” This is an important topic indeed! Salvation hinges upon the very issue of baptism, and not upon Christ, and His atonement and grace!

To this statement, the Baptismal Regenerationist would heartily disagree. They would say that they believe that it is all of grace. But grace is applied through obedience to the gospel, which demands baptism by immersion! Hebrews 5:9 takes on this meaning when it says, “he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” No obedience, no salvation. God commands that we be baptized; so then, God must demand that in order to be saved, we must obey and be baptized!

 This seems to follow along the lines of logic, but fails to see that the Scriptures do not say that we are saved by logic, but by what the Bible says that we must do in order to be saved. This is the real issue. Not logical arguments, but a reliance on the whole of Scripture to define how people are saved in the Gospel dispensation.    

 The concept of obedience and baptism will be discussed at the conclusion of the article. This will not be ignored, but must be put into the context of certain facts concerning grace, the Gospel, and the Word of God.

 Let’s start with just a few of the verses that the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration uses to add water baptism to the salvation formula.



John 3:5

One of the key verses for the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration is in John 3:5. The emphasis is put upon the words, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” This seems to say it all for those that believe that water will supplement the deficiency of the work of Christ. They claim that to be saved, we must be regenerated by water baptism in order to receive the baptism of the Spirit. This however misses some important details. First of all, the passage separates the event of being born of water and being born of the Spirit. They are not the same thing, which baptismal regeneration implies. Secondly, baptism is not even mentioned in the context of this passage. The passage is not talking about baptism at all! Lets take a brief look to see what the passage does say.

The question Nicodemus asked was, “How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? “Jesus answered.” Notice that Jesus is answering the question that Nicodemus asked, which was “how he could return again to his mothers womb.” Jesus does not go off on a tangent by talking about baptism by immersion. In fact, He does not do anything other than answer the direct question of Nicodemus.  

Jesus answered his question very directly saying, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." It is clear from the passage that Nicodemus thought that Jesus was talking about a PHYSICAL rebirth. Jesus responded to his misconception by saying that this is not a physical birth (mother's water) but a SPIRITUAL birth.

If this was talking about water baptism as a requirement for being born-again, you would think that it would be reinforced somewhere in the context of Jesus' speaking. But we find the exact opposite! Jesus says in verse 12 that "if I told you EARTHLY THINGS, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you HEAVENLY THINGS?"

John chapter three is the context in which the interaction of Jesus and Nicodemus takes place. Just before this we read the Gospel is that, "whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 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." Notice that there is not a singular reference to baptism concerning salvation in this verse, or any baptism/salvation connection in the whole chapter! The Gospel is not found in water, but upon faith! "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36).

It is a distortion of the Gospel, and the straightforward meaning of the context, to make this passage say that baptism is a requirement for salvation. Just because water is used in the passage, it is no reason to force the concept of baptism upon it! 



ACTS 2:38

The bedrock verse for Baptismal Regeneration is Acts 2:38. The whole idea of how Bible verses concerning salvation, purification, washing, and water, are to be interpreted, hinges upon their doctrinal dogmatism upon this single verse. They see this as the clearest, and most straightforward presentation of the gospel message in all of the Scripture.

“Then Peter said unto them, 'Repent, and be baptized 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.”

By isolating this, and ignoring the rest of Scripture on the subject, we see that they come up with a gospel formula on their own. Repentance…. Baptism “for” the remission of sins…. Only then does one receive the Holy Ghost.

Where we can get off track on this issue is by ignoring the whole of what Scripture says on the issue, and isolating any individual verse from the greater context of all Scripture. Keep in mind that the vast majority of passages concerning salvation in Scripture do not even contain the slightest reference to baptism. All salvation passages connect faith, or belief, as the means by which salvation is conferred upon individuals, but relatively few of them mention baptism. This begs the question. Why should we blindly accept that baptism is essential to salvation in full defiance of hundreds of passages to the contrary that teach that we are saved by faith, without baptism? It is impossible to defy the conclusion that if through faith, one person can be saved without water baptism, then everybody can! The fact that in some salvation passages we see a reference to baptism is significant, and must be addressed. Further discussion upon this significance will be shown later on when we consider the usage of baptism in the Early Church. For now, it is sufficient enough to acknowledge that there are passages that speak of the two together. The point is, that in view of the whole of Scripture, this significance is minor. The minority of passages do not override the majority. Either side must not ignore the presence of the other, but we must look at it holistically; not by pitting one passage against another. The fact that there are viable and Biblical answers to the claims of Baptismal Regeneration cannot be ignored. One must take sides either for or against Baptismal Regeneration. It is a salvation issue on either side, and therefore must be taken seriously.

The Baptismal Regenerationist argues fiercely that Acts 2:38 states that Peter presents the Gospel to include immersion baptism. The people, pricked in their hearts cried out, "what must we do to be saved?" Peter’s answer to their question is: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins.” “That is “plain as day” as to what one must “do” in order to be saved,” they would say. Isolating the passage, as they would do, we see that the argument from logic seems quite formidable. But what of the passages that omit any such injunction to water baptism? Are we not promised that if we “call upon the name of the Lord” we “shalt be saved.”? What are we to say about salvation when we are told that we are “saved by grace though faith; and that not of ourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, (baptism, church attendance, tithing, etc.) lest any man should boast.”? Does one principle on either side void the meaning in the other? This cannot be so! There must be a reasonable way to put these things together.

Unfortunately, the most of us are restricted to the poverty of the English language. In doing so, we are robbed at times of the rich and exacting connections that are made in the original Greek. We are also at a loss at times to find the best word for certain translations. Am I saying that the traditional translation for Acts 2:38 is in error? No I am not. The trouble is at times that when translating a meaning for a word, exegetical experts like to translate on a word for word basis. What this means is, they pick the best single English word to replace the meaning of the singular Greek word in the passage. What happens here are that some Greek words would be better translated as several words to arrive at the best understanding of the passage in English. “For” the remission of sins is by far the best single word translation as is proven by its popularity in most translations.

Even in the English usage we can see there are different meanings as to how the word "for" is used and applied. This we will discuss later on in our discussion. Many read into this passage that the word for means “purpose of ” or “in order to obtain.” While this is a just interpretation that can be used in many cases, it is cannot be here. There are many options that can be used for the Greek word eis in this passage, especially ones that do not make this passage contradict hundreds of other Scriptures. It would be a better multiple word translation to interpret the meaning of  eis as, “on account of,” “because of ” (Matt. 12:41; Luke 11:32), “in accordance ”or “with reference to," the remission of sins. This would be more appropriate since this would keep in harmony with the passages that assert that we are saved by faith and not by any works. (See Brown, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3:1208 ; Perschbacher, The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, page 121, eis, (with reference to; as in 2 Cor. 10:13,); Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich, Greek Lexicon, page 230 , eis, (with respect or reference to); Moulton, The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, page 119, eis, (with a view to; with reference to; in accordance with). 

Two bits of misinformation are used in an attempt to salvage baptism as a requirement for salvation. First, the misnomer that some have propagated, " eis never means "because of." This is emphatically proven wrong by the use of eis in Matt. 12:41. The other false claim is, "the word "eis" never looks backwards." Once again, this is proven to be patently false according to Matt. 12:41. Look at the example of Scripture they say never "looks backwards." " My children are with me in (eis) bed." Luke 11:7. They were already with him in bed, there is not any reference to the future. The argument which claims that eis in Acts 2:38 can only mean that baptism is required for salvation, is clearly a false, and is either propagated out of ignorance, or by deliberate deception. It only takes one example to prove their assertion is false!

The argument is made that the term cannot be used  as "reference to," or "with reference to."  In Romans 6: 3 we read, "that so many of us as were baptized into (eis) Christ were baptized into (eis) his death..." 1 Corinthians 10: 2, "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto (eis) Moses in the cloud and in the sea." "And that "baptized unto Moses" again uses the little preposition eis, so the Bible says, "baptized eis Jesus Christ," " baptized eis his death," and "baptized eis Moses." So if baptism puts the penitent sinner into Christ, then all the nation of Israel were put into Moses. If the one is literally put into, then the other is literally put into." False Doctrines, John R. Rice, Sword of the Lord Publishers, Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Page 92. The meaning of eis is clearly used as a term of being "in reference to"; a legitimate meaning of the word. So to argue that eis cannot mean "reference to" or "with reference to" in many passages of Scripture, and it cannot hold the same meaning in Acts 2:38, is to dodge reality.  

"In reference to" can be seen in another example, this time in the English usage of the word. Here are a few expressions that show that there can be more than just one justifiable use of the word. We can "take an aspirin for a headache," and we can “get paid for our work.” We do not take aspirin “for the purpose of ” getting a headache anymore than we get paid “in order to obtain ”our work. The meaning of "because" or "on account of" makes more sense in these examples, just as on account of the remission of sins does in Acts 2:38.

We are told of a leper in Luke 5:13 that was healed by the touch of Jesus. In 5:14, Jesus tells him, “go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing. ”Notice that he was not ordered to make an offering “in order to obtain” this cleansing, this would not make sense, for the healed leper already had it!  

Another illustration is as follows:

1.  I phoned the Doctor for (in order to) some medicine.

2.  I phoned the Doctor for (in behalf of) my child.

3. I phoned the Doctor for (on account of) my sickness.

4. I phoned the Doctor for (with respect to) the bill he sent. (Bob Ross, Acts 2:38 and Baptismal Remission, pp.45-48 , Pilgrim Publications, Pasadena, TX, 1987)

Just as English translation does not lock us into the idea that baptism is a prerequisite for salvation, the English does not assert or demand which of the meanings of "eis" we should choose. The laws of hermeneutics however, demand that “on account of the remission of sins” is the only Scripturally consistent translation to consider.

But if the argument from Scripture consistency and the use of English wording is not enough to convince you, then we should look at the clarity of the Greek.

Bob Ross in his book, Acts 2:38 and Baptismal Remission, pp.45-48 (Pilgrim Publications, Pasadena, TX, 1987), makes some important points about this verse and its three clauses:

"The American Standard Version (1901) renders Acts 2:38 as follows: Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

"... there are three clauses in this sentence, and the modifying phrases must stand in their respective, individual clauses, according to the rules of grammar. Consequently, if 'repent' is in a distinct clause from 'be baptized ' the modifying phrase "for the remission of sin" cannot modify both 'repent' and 'be baptized'

"The three clauses are --
'Repent ye:'

'ye' -- subject, second person plural number.

'Repent' -- verb, second person plural number, aorist imperative active voice.

(2) 'be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of sins:'

“every one of you” – third person, singular number. 

'be baptized' -- verb, third person singular number, aorist passive imperative voice.

“unto the remission of your sins” – modifying phrase.

(3) 'ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit:'

'ye' -- subject, second person plural number.

'shall receive' -- verb, second person plural number, future, indicative voice.

'the gift of the Holy Spirit' -- direct object of verb.

"For the claims of Campbellism (Baptismal Regeneration) to be upheld, the first and second clauses would have to be connected so as to allow 'for the remission of sins' to modify both 'repent' and 'be baptized.' However, this presents the following grammatical problem: In the first clause, the person and number of the verb 'repent' do not agree with the verb 'be baptized' in the second clause. 'Repent' is second person plural number; 'be baptized' is third person singular number.

"It is a rule of Greek grammar, as it is in English, that the verb agrees with its subject in person and number:" 

"Person is the quality of verbs which indicates whether the subject is speaking (first person), is being spoken to (second person), or is being spoken of (third person) ...

"Number is the quality of verbs which indicates whether the subject is singular or plural" Ray Summers, Essentials of New Testament Greek (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1950), p.12:  

"If the subject of a verb is the person or the group of persons speaking, the verb is in the first person. If the subject of a verb is the person or group of persons spoken to, the verb is in the second person. If the subject of a verb is the person or the thing or the group spoken of, the verb is the third person" Let's Study Greek by Clarence B. Hale (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), p. 9:

"These quotations from 'standard' Greek grammars express the simple fact that subjects and verbs agree with one another.

"It is evident, then, that repentance and baptism in Acts 2:38 cannot be combined so as to have both modified by the phrase, 'for the remission of sins.' The proper grammatical construction of the sentence forbids it.

To express this graphically, I enclose the following:  

Repent ye, --------------------->

2nd person

ye shall receive ------------------------------>

2nd person

the gift of the Holy Spirit

object of 2nd person

All of you repent and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit

every one of you --------------->

3rd person

be baptized ----------------------------------->

3rd person

unto the remission of sins

object of third person


Every one of you (who repented and received the Holy Spirit) be baptized because the remission of sins. 

(This is implied by verse 41. “Then they that received his word were baptized." )


The point that is obvious in the Greek is that the idea of repentance and the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit is a separate action or event from the command to the persons to whom the baptism “for” the remission of sins is addressed. As much some may wish, we cannot deny the obvious separation given in the Greek and place the two events together as one little tight package. It is logical to think that the third person exhortation to be baptized is addressed to those within the third person plural group, those that were exhorted to repent and receive the Holy Spirit. It would be rightfully assumed that they had already possessed the Holy Spirit and and salvation, and were candidates for baptism, therefore they were baptized in "reference to" the remission of sins. They were saved before they were baptized. You baptize a believer, and you have a testimony. You baptize an unsaved person, and all you have is a wet sinner! Water does not save or convert. God is not limited to water! They were baptized because their sins were already remitted!

But some may baulk at the idea that "because" holds any authority as its meaning. What do the Greek experts think? 

"Dana and Mantly in their excellent treatment of the Greek prepositions based upon the papyri findings, give as as one of the uses of the word as "because of." Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Kenneth Wuest, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI. 49502. (vol. 3:77).

Wuest translates as follows, "and let each one of you be baptized upon the ground of your confession of belief in the sum total of all that Jesus Christ is in His glorious Person, this baptismal testimony being in relation to the fact that your sins have been put away..." The New Testament: An Expanded Translation, Kenneth Wuest, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI. 49502. Page 276.

Robertson remarks, "And let each one of you be baptized." "Change of number from plural to singular and person from second to third. This change marks a break in the thought here that the English translation does not preserve." (vol. 3:34). "Unto the remission of your sins... This phrase is the subject of endless controversy as men look at it from the standpoint of sacramental or of evangelical theology... It is seen in Matt. 10:41 in three examples (of eis) where it cannot be purpose or aim, but rather the basis or ground, on the basis of the name of prophet, righteous man, disciple, because one is, etc." (3:35). "So I understand Peter to be urging baptism on each of them who had already turned (repented) and for it to be done in the name of Jesus Christ on the basis of forgiveness of sins already received." (3:36). Word Pictures In The New Testament, A.T. Robertson, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tn. 1930.    

I will give one last example from the use of language to show how the rigid Baptismal Regenerationists' assertion that eis can only mean "for" or "in order to obtain" the remission of sins, is proven to be impossible. They must be dogmatic about it, or the whole theological house of cards they have built upon it will come tumbling down at the slightest gust from the wind of truth. But what if we take their street-corner linguistic approach and apply it to Matthew 3:11? "I indeed baptize you with water unto (eis) repentance..." Where does our rigid method of folk linguistics lead us with this passage? If it is true that one must be baptized "in order to" receive remission of sins, it is inevitably true that you must be baptized "in order to" repent! The logic is irresistible! You must be baptized "in order to" repent! We have it in Scripture, you cannot repent until you are baptized! But John disagrees; he places repentance as the condition of baptism. It is impossible that one must repent before they are baptized, and at the same time cannot repent until after they are baptized. Both cannot be true. The same can be said about the rigid use of eis in Acts 2:38. It cannot be true that we are said to be saved by grace through faith in innumerable passages, and only through water baptism in a few; and only if we apply a failed "it can only mean one thing" approach to the meaning of eis that every credible linguist, and the inspired Scriptures emphatically deny. It cannot be denied that the use of language admits that Acts 2:38 can mean that you must be baptized in order to be saved. It also cannot be denied that eis in Acts 2:38, and everywhere else in Scripture, can have more than one limited meaning. Weighed out against the wealth of Scripture to the contrary of Baptismal Regeneration, one can defy logic, linguistics, and Scriptural consistency, and hold tenaciously to their pet theory; but they will not have truth or the Gospel.  

If Acts 2:38 "is the Gospel" as many Baptismal Regenerationists claim (their interpretation of it), they must scratch their heads in amazement as to how the Christians of the first 200 years missed it! It is no doubt that the Early Church preached the Gospel. The surviving writings that we have today shows how steeped in Scripture they were in their letters. If this passage were the "Gospel in a nutshell," then why didn't the Early Church writers pull it out of their selective arsenal of Scriptures to preach the Gospel? Why were they not as dazzled and centered on this singular passage as the modern day "Restorationists" are? Could it be that those steeped in the language, the culture, the teachings of the apostles, actually understood the passage, that it didn't put baptism as the cause of salvation? I have never heard a rational explanation that would account for the silence of the Early Church concerning the neglect of this so-called perfect, "Gospel in a nutshell"!



MARK 16:16

The proponents of this baptismal regeneration doctrine are quick to state the first half of the verse while neglecting the latter half, which says, “ but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Notice that the passage is clear that believing and being baptized is not the same thing. The fact that those who do not believe shall be damned clearly makes no reference to baptism. Their lack of faith is the cause of their doom. The first half of the passage talks of salvation by faith, and baptism because they are saved. My friend, if you baptize a sinner, all you get is a wet sinner! If you baptize a Christian you have a testimony! Getting wet would do absolutely nothing for the one who is not already saved by faith. People get baptized because they believe and are already saved. It is a testimony of the abandonment of their old life and a proclamation of the new.



If you make baptism a requirement of Salvation, then you cause Scripture to contradict Scripture. If you must be baptized to be saved, why does the Scripture say we are: 

1.   Saved by grace through faith, not of works, which would include baptism! (Rom. 3:24-25; Eph. 2:8-9;  Acts 15:8-9).

2.   Saved by faith without works, including baptism! (Rom. 4:1-25; 5:1; Gal. 3:19-29).

3.   Saved by faith in the blood of Jesus, not faith in water! (Matt. 26:28; Eph 1:7; Rev. 1:5; 1 Jn. 1:7; Heb. 9:22; 1 Pet. 1:18-23).

4.   Saved by calling on the name of the Lord. (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:9-13).

5.   Saved by believing on Jesus (John 3:16-18; 26; Acts 10:43; 13:38-40; 16:31; Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 1:21). Not one time is baptism referred to as necessary to gain salvation in ANY of these passages!



If one example can be found in the Scripture that someone was saved before they were baptized, or without baptism, then the heretical theory of baptismal regeneration has been proven false! For this, we have several examples:

1.   The thief on the cross. Without a doubt was clearly saved without water baptism! Mark 14:30.

2.   Paul was converted, filled with the Holy Spirit before he was baptized with water. Acts 9:17-18.

 3.  Cornelius and his household. Believed, and were immediately baptized with the Spirit before they were baptized with water. Acts 10:43-44.                               



1 Peter 3:21

Some will claim that 1 Peter 3:21, "the like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us," makes water baptism “a must for salvation.” If you were to read it in its context, you would not come up with the conclusion that water baptism is essential for salvation.” 1 Peter 3:20,21, it says, “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The LIKE FIGURE whereunto even baptism doth also save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Baptism is mentioned here only as a FIGURE, that is, a shadow, symbol, or picture of salvation. Baptism does not save; it declares salvation. It was as if God knew that this passage would be misused that He ended the verse with “(not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.)”  Water baptism does not put away the filth of the old carnal nature, but simply gives us a good conscience toward God.

Baptismal Regeneration:

1.  Takes the power of salvation out of the hands of God and puts it into the hands of a mediator, i.e. a preacher, or some other “man” as the administrator. (A man beached alone on an island could not become saved according to this!)

2.  It reduces the efficacy of the blood of Christ to the physical element of water. (Those in the frozen north, or arid desert where there is barely enough water for survival, would be denied salvation because of lack of water).

3. Argues that baptism is essential to the Gospel. However, Paul did not exhort people to believe in the “water god.” In fact, he fought hard to remove the peoples trust in their personal works for salvation, including trusting in baptism. He said that God did not send him to baptize but to preach the Gospel. (1 Cor. 1:14.)  Certainly, it was Paul’s mission to get people saved, and they could only be saved through the Gospel. If baptism were integral to the Gospel, then Paul would have been sent to baptize. By Paul’s clear statement, he made it clear that the Gospel had nothing to do with baptism! To Paul, the Gospel is not connected to baptism!

We should do the same by not confusing regeneration with baptism!


Immersion Baptism is Not Essential to Salvation

(But it is Essential to Church Membership)


These difficulties are real. I know that they are treated lightly, and laughed at as trifling; but this does not remove them. The argument is, that either God has enjoined a duty to be perpetually and universally binding, which, for a large portion of the year, is impractical, burdensome, or dangerous for millions of the race, or else he has not enjoined immersion as the exclusive mode of baptism. The Gospel comes to all, in every age, in every condition, in the polar snows or the burning sands, in arid wastes or mountain fastnesses, in palace or hospital, in the air of freedom or within prison walls; and it comes with all its comforts and helps, and in perfect adaptation to all. But, tested by this rule, exclusive immersion is another system. 

S.M. Merrill

It seems that there has been an inordinate amount of debate throughout the history of Christianity over this issue of baptism. To the outsider, it seems like there is much ado over how a Christian should get wet! Since the vast majority of those who claim the name of “Christian” do not believe that baptism has anything to do with salvation, it seems ridiculous that we should expend so much energy over such a non-essential issue.

With this in view, I must explain the reason for this portion of this paper. The first reason is that there are many groups who dogmatically insist on immersion baptism as if it were the most critical of doctrines. They unknowingly force their own private interpretation, and put their own twist upon verses that do not assert what they try to make them mean.

Following the logical path of their assumptions, we will find that it only leads us to make the Bible a book of absurdities; and this must be corrected. Secondly, The interest of truth compels me to remove the false assertions about the mode of baptism, which many use as a whipping stick and a means to stigmatize fellow believers as disobedient or sub-standard Christians. We certainly cannot believe that Jesus would have treated believers as step-children because of the mode in which they got wet. It is clear that this attitude divides and is not healthy for the Church.

An illustration of this inordinate obsession over baptism can be found in the Autobiography of Peter Cartwright. Cartwright, a Methodist evangelist, was one of the pioneer preachers at the dawn of our nations birth. He preached with great success in new territories such as Kentucky and Tennessee. Since he traveled on a circuit from town to town, he only returned to each place about once a month. He tells us that the Baptists would follow behind his evangelistic successes and engage in the act of sheep stealing. 

After one occasion, one of his members chased him down, explained what was happening, and urged him to turn back toward town. This he did. Upon his arrival he attended the meetings where he heard two sermons on “Water, water; you must follow your Lord down into the water!” Cartwright recorded, “ About the time they were done giving the right hand of fellowship and rejoicing over my stolen children, a thought struck my mind very forcibly to give my experience, and act as though I intended to join the Baptist Church. It may be that I can yet save them.”

 “There was a fine creek running near the old church. The preachers directed all us all to appear next morning at nine o’clock, with a change of apparel, to be baptized.” “At the appointed hour we all met at the creek, but I took no change of apparel. I had been baptized, and I did not intend to abjure my baptism.” “ The preachers appeared. One of them sang and prayed, then gave us an exhortation, and bade us to come forward.”

Knowing that it was essential that he should go first, Cartwright said, “I wish to join the Baptist Church if I can come with a good conscience. I have been baptized, and my conscience is perfectly satisfied with it, and I cannot submit to be re-baptized. Can I come to your Church on these terms?”

“When were you baptized?” he asked.

“Years gone by,” I replied.

“But how was it done? Who baptized you?” was the next inquiry.

“By one of the best preachers the Lord ever made.”

“Was it done by sprinkling?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That was no baptism at all.”

I replied, “The Scriptures say that baptism is not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience, and my conscience is perfectly satisfied with my baptism, and your conscience has nothing to do with it.”

“Well,” said he, “it is contrary to our faith and order to let you come into the Baptist Church in that way. We cannot do it.”

“Your faith and order must be wrong. The Church has heard my experience, and pronounced it good; and you believe that I am a Christian, and cannot fall away as to be finally lost. What am I to do? Are you going to keep me out of the Church, bleating round the walls like a lost sheep in a gang by myself? Brother M_____, you must receive me into the Church. I have fully made up my mind to join you on these terms; now, will you let me come into the Church?”  I cast a look around the crowd, and saw they were enlisted in my favor.

Then one of Peter Cartwright’s converts spoke up and said,  “Brother M_____, are you going to reject Brother Cartwright, and not receive him into the Church?”

“ I cannot receive him, ” said Brother M_____.

“Well, if Brother Cartwright, who has been the means, in the hand of God, of my conversion, and the saving of so many precious souls, cannot come into the Church I cannot and will not join it. “Nor I,” said his wife; “Nor I,” “Nor I;” and thus it went round, until every one of my twenty-three young converts filed off.....The congregation saw the absurdity, and more and more were interested in my favor.

Cartwright was correct in referring to 1 Peter 3:20, 21, which clearly sets the whole purpose of baptism into its proper perspective. Baptism is a mere figure; it declares salvation. It is “(not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.)” If these preachers really believed that we are saved by faith and not by works, how could they deny a Christian access into the fellowship of God? This friend is pure hypocrisy!  Would you truly believe that Christ would keep a believer out of the Church over the manner in which they were baptized?   

If baptism is not a salvation issue, why do Christians separate their fellowship over it? Most Christians would admit that the Scriptures appeal to the unity of believers, but yet, some deny membership into the body of the local Church over the issue of baptism. To say that baptism is not a salvation issue is to say that a Believer is incorporated into the Body of Christ upon the reception of the new-birth. To admit this is to say that the believer, baptized or not, is already a member of the Body of Christ; the Church. We “say” that they are saved; yet we bar them from the fellowship of believers. You see, it is tantamount to saying that they are not saved, or they do not have a “right” to be included in the Body of Christ on earth, even though they are already part of that Body in the mind of God. God includes them, and we stand in judgment. How can we say this is right? How can we say that the one who is incorporated into the Body of the Church by the atonement of Christ is unworthy of membership within our local body? To do so is not only to stand in judgment of the believer, but it is also tantamount to standing in judgment of God’s declaration of that status of that believer in His kingdom! God says they are worthy; “Churches” say they are not. 




The previous example shows the impracticality of pushing the mode of baptism too far. What I will now show is how the misapplication of baptism in certain portions of Scripture will lead us down the road of contradiction. The Scriptures do not fight with themselves!

One of the favorite passages for the Immersionist is Romans 6:4. “Therefore we are all buried with him by baptism into death.” This proves that we must be buried under the water in order to be baptized! Doesn’t it? This seems logical but it is hopelessly flawed. To argue that the word “buried” demands a literal burial in water ignores that we must interpret the whole verse just as literally. Keep in mind, if we demand that it is a literal burial, then, it must be a literal death! And if the burial must be taken literally, then so must the crucifixion! This very fact demands that the passage is not talking about water baptism, but spiritual baptism. Certainly water baptism cannot put us into his death. Neither can water baptism free us from the sins of the flesh, but the very baptism that Paul speaks of is a spiritual baptism.

Another observation about this passage that I want to make clear is that there is not a lake, a pond, a baptismal, or stream mentioned in the entire passage. In fact, there is not one drop of water in this passage! This chapter has nothing to do with water baptism at all! In verse 3 we are told specifically what we are baptized into; Jesus Christ!

“ Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”  If Paul meant water instead of Jesus Christ, wouldn’t he have said so? This is a spiritual baptism, in which we identify with the death of Christ. This is the same spiritual baptism Paul refers to in 1 Cor. 12:13, where he says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.”

For those who demand that these references are speaking about immersion or water baptism, and still claim that we saved by grace, they have an exegetical problem. In Romans 6:5, we are told of this baptism that, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” What if we have not been immersed in water baptism? The promise of being resurrected is only connected to those who are “planted together in the likeness of his death,” and to them alone! Are we going to follow the conclusion that you must be immersed in water in order to be saved? The Scriptures deny such heresy, as does the context of this passage.  

It is also astonishing to see the dogmatism of some, that this establishes the Christian "mode" of water baptism. "Burial, burial! You must go under the water in order to be buried; just as Jesus was buried!" I find it amusing to ask such self-proclaimed "literalists," "where it is stated that Jesus was ever under anything in His burial?" Jesus was buried in a tomb, above ground. No imagery of going "under" water can symbolize the death of Christ, for Jesus never went "under" anything in His burial! Where will this playing fast and loose with the facts, and the hypocritical "pick-and-choose" literalism of the immersionists lead us?   

In Colossians 2:11-12, we are told, “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”  Notice that this passage is also spiritual, for this circumcision is done without hands, and that by this baptism, we are raised through the faith of the operation of God. Nothing is said about any water in the process, so why do some force it into the passage? If we are to be literal and demand immersion in water at the same time, we must insist that the passage demands that the person being baptized by immersion must remain under the water until they are raised through faith in the day of their resurrection! It is either a spiritual death, burial, and resurrection, or it is a literal death, burial, and resurrection. You cannot demand literalism of the passage at one point, and then deny it at another, when it it all within the same context! The literalism that denies the spiritual message, and demands baptism by immersion in water from these passages, must also demand that the only saved Christians, are drowned Christians!

Paul writes, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days.” He is calling for grace among believers. He hopes to incite unity among those who differ in the non-essentials of the Christian religion. In this passage Paul addresses the disputes between converts that came from Judaism, but what would he say to us today about the divisiveness of baptismal modes among those of us that believe we are saved by faith? In this we can only speculate, but I believe that he would have appealed to grace.

We must reject any uncharitable notion, whether stated or implied, that all other denominations are to be considered un-baptized just because they are un-immersed, and are therefore in willful disobedience to God. We should not use baptism as a means to bar believers from membership or the Lord’s Table. Obedience to the command is what matters – not the mode. For those who demand an immersion only policy, this is the unfortunate result of their doctrinal bias. 


The Meaning and Mode of Baptism

Since there are those within the Christian fold that put such a huge emphasis upon this issue of baptism, I find it necessary to give an honest review of the claims that are made. The reason such a review is important is that many make it an issue of fellowship and as a reason to judge others spirituality and fidelity to the word of God.  There is an air of confidence by those who claim that immersion is the exclusive mode of baptism. Since they believe that they have Scripture and scholarship on their side, this needs to be examined. This we will show this to be a fallacy.

In 1837, the Baptist denomination withdrew from the American Bible Society and formed their own institution for the purpose of translating and circulating the word of life. They called this new society The American and Foreign Bible Society. The cause of their separation from one society and the creation of a new one was over this issue of baptism. A Baptist missionary in India sent an application to the American Bible Society for a new translation of the New Testament in the Bengali language, but it was refused on the grounds that the Greek words BAPTISO, and BAPTISMA, were not translated exclusively as immerse.

The reason for this refusal was that it was the policy of the American Bible Society that they produce Scriptures that are “without note or comment” and that foreign translations “coincide with English Versions in common use.” This was done in order that all religious denominations might be able to use it. This brought sharp criticism from the new Baptist society president who said, “Among the errors and frauds which have marked the rise and progress of the Papal hierarchy, handling the word of the Lord deceitfully is not the least. To keep back any part of the price; to add to or take away from the words of the book, is a crime of no questionable character.” They stated their purpose as being, “to promote the circulation of faithful versions of the sacred Scriptures.” And, “It shall be the object of this society to encourage the production and circulation of complete translations of the Holy Scriptures…. it being always understood, that the words relating to the ordinance of BAPTISM shall be translated by terms signifying IMMERSION.”  “Our brethren (the Baptists) consider the course adopted by Bible societies in three quarters of the globe as an UNHOLY LEAGUE to suppress a part of the eternal truth of God.”

These are serious charges that deserve to be examined to see if they are true. Since there are no English versions that translate BAPTIZO as immerse, are we to believe that Greek scholars and translators all throughout history are part of an UNHOLY LEAGUE? If they were that corrupt, why would they have any interest in the translation process at all? Can we suppose that they translated against clear meanings and principles of word usage in order to purposely suppress part of the eternal truth of God, especially with the ominous warnings of Scripture concerning tampering with the word of God? (Rev. 22:18-19.) Risking the condemnation of a holy God over how you translate how someone gets wet in baptism is not something any reasonable person would do without a solid reason to do so. This argument that these translators were willfully suppressing the truth does not add up!

What about the assertion that BAPTIZO always means immerse? Those that claim this refer to myriad's of resources that validate their position that the term means to dip, immerse, plunge, bathe, wash, but never to “pour” or “sprinkle.” With the vast number of authoritative sources, how could anybody ever claim that there are optional modes?

The first reason is that when most of these resources were written, they were under the misconception that the Bible was written in classical Greek, but it was not. It is accepted today that through research, we know that the Bible was written in koine (common) Greek. It is like comparing “proper” English with “American” English. They are similar, but they are not the same. If someone were to write a Gospel in America, using modern terminology, they may say, “Jesus is bad!” Now, in proper English, we would say that this is saying that Jesus is not good. But in modern American terminology, this means that Jesus is “very good.” The bottom line is not what the classical Greek meaning is as much as what did the common Greek understanding of that day take it to mean. An example of this is the word LOGOS, which in classical Greek means word or speech. In the New Testament however, the context tells us that in the gospel of John, it means Jesus our Lord.

We can grasp the understanding of the word BAPTIZO by the contextual clues in the passages in which it is used, and by observing its use in the early Church. In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance...he (Jesus) shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” This was a foreshadowing of the day of Pentecost, which is recorded in Acts chapter two. It says that they were all baptized with the Holy Ghost, and then we are clearly told the mode in which the baptism took place. It is revealed that the Holy Ghost was poured out; in fact, it could not have been done any other way if it is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, which he plainly says that the Spirit would be poured out upon them. It is clear by these passages that there is no way to confuse that baptism is by immersion and not by pouring. In fact, since this is a fulfillment of the prophecy of John the Baptist, (Luke 3:16) there is a strong probability that he baptized by pouring too!

In Acts 11:15, 16 we have BAPTIZO used again in speaking of Cornelius and his household. The context proves that it was done by pouring since Peter makes reference to the Day of Pentecost saying, “as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell upon them, as on us in the beginning.” Here we have another instance where the word does not mean immerse; it means to pour, and yet Peter calls it baptism.

The word BAPTIZO is used again in 1 Corinthians 10:2 by the apostle Paul. Speaking about the event of the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea he says, “and they were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”  It is clear that this cannot mean immersion since we are told that the waters were a wall unto them on the right hand and on their left. We are told that they went over on dry ground. It is simply impossible to be immersed in water and still have dry feet! They were baptized, but it was done by a different mode, sprinkling. Paul says that they were under the cloud in the sea. This is another example of why baptism cannot mean exclusively immersion. Just remember, that listening to God and obeying Him saved the Israelites, and it was the Egyptians that got all wet!

BAPTIZO is also in the New Testament under the term of washing. In Hebrews 9:10 we are told, “Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings (BAPTIZO) and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of the reformation.” Speaking of the Old Testament dispensation, we see that they had divers washings or baptisms. If you search through the Old Testament you will find examples of    where people were sprinkled and were commanded to do so. This is why it was customary to use the hyssop plant as a means to sprinkle the person that was to be washed. In Leviticus 14:4–8, it says,” Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive, and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop...and shall dip them...and he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed.” As you read through the Old Testament examples you will find “many sprinklings,” but you will not find “many immersions.” Amazingly, the writer of Hebrews calls these washings, baptism.

Another example where BAPTIZO is used, but immersion makes the passage to be an absurdity is Mark 7:4 , “And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not.  And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing (BAPTIZO) of their cups, pots, brazen vessels, and tables.” This BAPTIZO was to be done every time they come from the market. Can you see the absurdity finding enough water to immerse a table several times a day, or even once a day? It was clearly a ceremonial cleaning, a washing, and not an immersion.

Luke 11:38, “And when the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he had not first washed (BAPTIZO) before dinner.”  It says that the Pharisee marveled because he did not baptize before dinner! No immersion before dinner? This interpretation is absurd! Any reasonable person would admit that the definition of Mark 7:4 and Luke 11:38 should be washing and not immersion!

This brings us to the question as to what is the best way to define baptism? The key to this answer is to be found in the one word that will fit into every instance of the term BAPTIZO. That is the meaning of wash, to cleanse, to purify. It is clear that the New Testament does not lock us into a singular mode in which this BAPTIZO is to be performed. What is important is that the action of cleansing takes place and not so much the mode. If  the Biblically consistent definition of cleansing is considered, then it matters little as to which mode someone uses.

BAPTIZO is a religious term which does not mean to dip, immerse, sprinkle, or pour, or any other external action, but it is just a religious term, which means to purify or to cleanse. This application works in every instance where the New Testament uses the term BAPTIZO. To center on the truth that purification and cleansing is the proper emphasis and translation of BAPTIZO, saves us from becoming bogged down in divisions over modes. It promotes Scriptural unity and a catholic spirit among Christians. Along with this, our Baptist friends should be happy to embrace this truth because it does not deny them their favorite mode. It only denies them the right to censure and exclude!

1 Peter 3:20-21, tells us that “the like figure whereunto even baptism doth now save us…not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God.” My friend, does baptism by immersion give you a good conscience towards God? Then be immersed! Does sprinkling or pouring give you a good conscience towards God? Then by all means, choose the one that gives you a good conscience! Let no man judge your conscience or your baptism because of his preference and conviction for a certain mode!

I believe the Scriptural position is that there is no command to dip or immerse in the New Testament, but solely a command to purify. From this it follows:

1.  Those other denominations should not be counted as un-baptized, even though they are un-immersed.

2. They are not to be accused of substituting human forms of baptism in place of a Commandment of God. They are not in rebellion against God because of the mode of  cleansing they choose to practice.

3. In light of this, there is no justifiable reason to exclude them from membership or the Table of the Lord.

4. Those that say that the term BAPTIZO does not mean exclusively to “dip” or “immerse” are not guilty of mistranslating or obscuring the word of God.


The Early Church and the Baptism of Believers


 In the Catacombs at Rome there are many drawings to be found, which picture Christian baptism either by pouring or by sprinkling. There is not a singular picture in the Catacombs of baptism by immersion!

In the chapter entitled “Immersion Baptism is Not Essential to Salvation (But it is Essential to Church Membership),” we covered the misconception that the Scriptures are always speaking of immersion in water when it speaks of baptism. We saw that the passages used to justify a burial in baptism make reference to a spiritual baptism by the Spirit into Christ, and not water baptism.

Our last chapter sought to expose the propaganda and misinformation that is used to try to convince us that the Greek word BAPTIZO always means to immerse. We showed that the New Testament usage of the word defies such a narrow definition.

In this chapter we will examine some of the remaining verses that Immersionists claim to prove their position. As you read the argument, please remember that we have taken the position already that states that all modes of baptism are valid. We continue to investigate the passages that allegedly defend this idea of exclusive immersion baptism.

Jesus went down into the water, and came straightway up out of the water.

In an overly simplistic way, this seems to answer the question of what mode of baptism Jesus participated in. This is similar to the error they make from the Greek word BAPTIZO; they demand that is only one Scriptural meaning out of the word. They posit that the Greek words, APO, from, and EIS, into, proves that Jesus went down into the water by immersion, and then he came up out of the water. They see this as decisive. The Greek however, is not clearly as one-sided in their favor as they may have hoped.

The word EIS, can mean to, or into. And APO, can mean from, or out of. With this in mind, Jesus could have gone down to the water, had been baptized by sprinkling or pouring, then came up from the water without ever getting his feet wet! To demand that EIS  must always mean into, and that into must carry the meaning of engulfed entirely by the water, leaves us with the absurd conclusion that when Jesus went into the mountain (EIS), he was engulfed from head to toe with dirt and gravel. This cannot be true anymore than it could be said that when Jesus went into (EIS) Peter’s boat, he was immersed into it!

As for the word APO, out of, from.. John the Baptist said to those who came to him, “who hath warned you to flee (APO) from the wrath to come?”  This translation is undoubtedly correct; for the “wrath” was yet to come, and they were not yet in it, and because of this, could not flee (APO) “out of “ it. So, to say that Jesus only went down to the water, and came from the water is perfectly sound, for there is not any contextual reason to demand that it is otherwise.

The same argument can be used of all the instances where going “down into” and coming “up from” or “out of” the water is used. I will only use one more example because of its abuse. It is the example of the Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch found in Acts 8:27-39. It says, “And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip.” See! They say, you must go down into the water and come up out of the water in order to be baptized Biblically! This is used as a proof text for immersion.

The same meanings of APO and EIS  in the Greek language still apply. Another problem for Immersionists is that they ignore the plain statement that not only did the eunuch go into the water and come up out of it, but so did Philip! So by their own literalistic demands, they are not baptizing Biblically themselves! That is, unless the preacher is getting immersed with each and every convert! This is the undeniable result of demanding immersion from this passage! So, are there contextual clues that may tell us how he was baptized? We find that Philip meets the eunuch and finds him reading Isaiah. The passage that he discusses with Philip is Isaiah 53:6. Keep in mind that there were no chapters and verses in the Scriptures of that day. Just six verses prior to this, (in our numbered Scriptures), which would have been considered in the immediate context, says, “So shall he sprinkle many nations.”  Since the eunuch was the one to initiate the request for baptism, and not Philip, the most logical means of baptism is the one he just read about, which was sprinkling. Now this does not prove the mode in which he was baptized, but there is more weight to this argument than any person can make from this passage for immersion.

 “John also was baptizing in Aenon, near to Salim, because there was much water there.” 

-John 3:23

Immersionists feel that this is a strong argument for their case. Why would it be important that John should have “much water” unless is for the purpose of plunging converts beneath the water by immersion? Keep in mind that the Bible’s geography is located in desert regions. If you were not by one of the rivers, drinkable water would be sparse. The likelihood of large groups of people being allowed to foul the local water supply by dunking them under what available water they had would never have been permitted. Notice that Aenon is not a lake, nor a river. In fact, the word Aenon means spring, or fountain, and that by archeological investigation we know that the springs are still there as they were 2000 years ago.

To the disappointment of many Immersionists, it is evident that these shallow springs were never sufficiently deep enough to accommodate their mode of baptism. Because of the “many springs” that are located there, we can legitimately say that a better translation would be “many waters,” and not “much water” because it can be mislead people into thinking that it refers to the depth of the water and not to the amount that was there. The conclusion that this passage favors immersion is an unwarranted assumption, a mere supposition; a thousand such suppositions do not prove one truth! The “much water” of Aenon, has never proved, nor can it prove that even one of John’s disciples was ever immersed in baptism!

Another example of baptism is noted in Acts 10:44-47, where the gentiles believed and received the Holy Ghost as well as we. Peter asked, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized?” Notice that he does not talk about taking them to the water, but the water was to be brought to them. It is a historical fact that most houses did not have large reserves, or pools of water in them. This coincides with the fact that John the Baptist said, “ I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance.” Matthew 3:11, and Acts 1:5, “John truly baptized with water.” We are not applied to the water; the water is to be applied to us! 

The New Testament records how Paul was baptized, Acts 9:17-18. There is no plausible reason to believe that there was a pool sufficient enough for immersion baptism within this household. To say otherwise does not coincide with the scarcity of water in this region. It would be foolish to suppose that they would have allowed someone to be immersed in such a water supply even if they had one, since this would foul their entire supply of water. What little water people had in these regions was used with great care. Also notice that there is nothing within this passage that says that they left from this place to a body of water that would be sufficient for immersion baptism. Finally, I call your attention to the fact that Paul stood up in order to be baptized. Now, since he was standing to be baptized, then it is not probable that he was baptized by immersion, but by sprinkling or pouring.

This is an example of a painting from the fifth century depicting the baptism of Jesus. This is the typical illustration that we find in all paintings from the early period of Christianity. You will notice that the subject of this baptism is standing in the water while the administrator is pouring water from above to symbolize the descent of the Holy Spirit and purification.

We do find that archeologists have found pools for retaining water in areas where running water was not available. While early Christians may have used some of these as a baptismal for the use of ceremonial purification, we do not see any evidence in picture or writing that anyone was ever immersed in one.

An early Christian writing that is called the Didache, which is dated anywhere between 50A.D. and 150 A.D., records detailed instructions on how to baptize. “Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” in running water. (A river, symbolic of sins being washed away.) But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water. (A pond or lake, stationary water.) …. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times “ in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Italicized words are my commentary.

Notice that nowhere does the writer say that anybody ever went under the water in order to be baptized! Also notice that he calls pouring a legitimate mode of baptism!

It is not the method in how you baptize that matters, it is the meaning which it conveys.

Obedience and Baptism  

One might assume that since I have contended that baptism is not essential to salvation, I must somehow easily dismiss it as optional for the believer. To an extent this must be true, but it is not the Biblical approach to this issue.

The optional aspect of baptism has been overplayed. This is probably an overreaction to the extremes of Baptismal Regeneration. The Scriptures and the Early Church put things into a better perspective.

In the New Testament, we see that Jesus in the Great Commission commands baptism. Matt. 28: 19, 20.  We see that this is promoted as a command by Peter in Acts 2:38. We also see the example of Christians being baptized by the apostles and ministers in the Scriptures. It is without a doubt accepted as a Christian’s obligatory duty.

Salvation in the Early Church was closely related to baptism. Baptism was not a "cause" of salvation, but the rejection of baptism could only be seen as a rejection of Christ and His claim on their lives. Because of this, it is understandable that baptism and salvation would be spoken of in close connection; but that connection does not in any way establish baptism as the effectual "cause." The Early Church Fathers also preached the command of baptism. In fact, at times they seem to equate baptism with salvation. Not that they misunderstood the concept of salvation by grace through faith, but there was a greater reason for this. Persecution has nearly always accompanied those that are part of the Church. In the second century, persecution was at a fever pitch. Many spies were going around in the effort to infiltrate and expose those who were believers. Getting found out as a believer in Christ was a death sentence.

To be baptized in the First and Second centuries, was a public act of renunciation of all the things you believed prior to that. No one, especially spies that would infiltrate the Church, would submit to this ritual, for if they submitted to Christian baptism, they would have been seen as rejecting their former beliefs, and would be identifying with Christianity as the truth. It was a public statement. You see, anyone who said that they were a believer in private, but would not proclaim it in a public profession through baptism, were viewed as greatly suspicious in a time of persecution and spies. The early Christians took baptism seriously. What incredible faith, considering that they knew that a public identification with Christianity, was to put a death sentence upon their heads! This is why it can be said, that the Scriptures and the Early Church knew nothing of an unbaptized believer.

We have taken this obligation all too lightly. We do not seem to appreciate the significance of baptism as deeply as those of the first two centuries. Those that were baptized were called witnesses, the Greek word being martyrs. They intended to live and die for Christ. They were willing to obey all of His commands, even at the expense of persecution and death.

Any true believer in Christ should joyfully submit to baptism on the grounds that is a command of Christ. Not to gain salvation, but to obey their Lord. One can only suspect what blessings a believer loses if they are conscious of the fact that they have omitted the simple command of Christ. Oh, so easy; and yet so neglected! I do not know how God views this present day casualness towards believers baptism. How people can feel comfortable with the knowledge that it is a command of God, while at the same time rationalize that it is optional, I don't know. One thing I do know, we will one day account for neglecting the loving request of our Savior. How can one know the command of Christ to obey such a simple submission, adamantly refuse to do their Savior's request? How can one be said to love Christ, to serve Him, to believe Him, or to obey Him, and continue to snub the command? Is such faith a saving faith?  


Baptism by the numbers 

After counting all of the references to the term BAPTIZO and its derivatives in the Greek New Testament, we find that the term is used 131 times, and after excluding the repeats from the synoptic Gospels, we see that the term is used 99 independent times. Of all of these passages, fewer than twenty can be appealed to in the effort to prove that baptism is essential to salvation. “The words salvation, faith, repent, forgive, sin, save, wash, justify, sanctify, clean, believe, purge, remission, redeem, blood, reconcile, and kindred words that are used of redemption, are used 3,322 times in Scripture and not once is water baptism stated as being necessary in any redemptive process before sins can be remitted. On the other hand, hundreds of Scriptures require blood, faith in the blood, and a simple confession of sins to God to have sins remitted, but never is baptism once hinted as an essential to redemption.” Finis Dake, God's Plan for Man, page 538.

If there is anything that we can draw from the evidence of this data, it is that that the overwhelming idea of the Gospel is defined as salvation by grace through faith, and not any salvation by baptism. It would be hard to concede that the weight of the evidence somehow supports the idea that baptism has any integral connection to the Gospel. The number should also indicate that there has been an overemphasis on this issue in some denominations.  My emphasis in this paper is out of concern for the abuses and attitudes surrounding the issue. I do not present these things to debate, but to stir the hearts of those that put great emphasis on this topic. With this thought I happily conclude.  


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Also Available: Christian Baptism, Twelve Reasons Immersion Is No Baptism, Baptism In A Nutshell, Immersion Proved To Be A Romish Invention