THE PLACE OF BAPTISM
IN GOD'S PLAN OF SALVATION
PART 1
Written by Ron Hutchison - Revised May 17, 2007

"Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:38).

There has been much discussion over the years concerning the necessity of baptism. This study is presented with the hope that it will contribute to a better understanding of what the Bible teaches about baptism.

When considering the necessity of baptism to salvation there are two views that are held by the majority of religious people:

  • A person must be baptized to be saved.

  • One is saved before and without baptism.

In D. B. Wallace's book Exegetical Syntax, pages 269-371, Mr. Wallace discussed different views concerning the word "for" (Greek "eis") in Acts 2:38 in the phrase "for the remission of sins." He discussed at least four views of what this phrase could mean. In discussing the first view he said,

"The baptism referred to here is physical only, and eis has the meaning of "for" or "unto." Such a view suggests that salvation is based on works--an idea that runs counter to the theology of Acts..."

Mr. Wallace expresses a view that so many believe today, i.e. that "baptism is a work, and since the Bible teaches that we are not saved by works then baptism cannot be necessary to salvation."

It is my conviction that this objection to the necessity of baptism for salvation does not come so much from the passages that discuss baptism, but rather from passages that deal with such subjects as faith, grace, the blood of Christ and works. Did you know that the New Testament contains at least one baptism passage that deals with each of these subjects? It has specific passages that show the relation of baptism to faith, grace, the blood of Christ, and works. We will look at each of these passages in the latter part of this study. A close study of these passages will make clear the position that baptism occupies in God's plan of salvation and will show complete harmony between all the passages that teach about faith, grace, the blood of Christ and works. But first, let us begin by looking at passages that teach the necessity of baptism.

[Note: baptize and it's related words like baptism, baptized, baptizing etc... are transliterated words from the Greek language (the New Testament was originally written in Greek) rather than translated words. This means that the translators, rather then translating the word or using an English word that meant the same thing as the Greek word, assigned an equalivant English letter to each Greek letter in the word. It is still the Greek word but spelled with English letters. If the Greek word was translated into English it would be translated by the word "immerse."  I do not know why translators did/do not translate the word baptize unless it would be fear of offending those who believe that sprinkling and pouring can substitute for immersion. However, the Bible clearly defines baptism as a "burial" and in the "likeness" of the burial of Christ (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12). No matter how hard you try, you can't get a burial out of sprinkling or pouring. As we study the subject of baptism please keep in mind that baptism means immersion.]


PASSAGES THAT TEACH THE NECESSITY OF BAPTISM
FOR FORGIVENESS OF SINS

JOHN 3

Let us begin our study with John 3 where a man named Nicodemus came to Jesus and heard Him say something very surprising. The words are found first in verse 3; "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.'" Jesus then went on to explain this new birth in verse 5: ". . . Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."

IS "WATER" FIGURATIVE OR LITERAL?

Some deny the relevance of this statement to the present discussion by saying that the "water" in John 3:5 is "figurative (a symbol) not literal water." Certainly, we would not deny the fact that the Bible uses figurative language. Jesus once called Herod a fox (Luke 13:32) but no one would understand Jesus to be saying that Herod was a literal fox. We know this was figurative language describing Herod's character. Even the term "water" is used figuratively as in John 7:38. But in each of these cases (and anywhere figurative language is used) to take the language literally would make the Bible teach nonsense. The language cannot be understood literally. So the use of figurative language in the Bible is not denied.

But, what reason is there to claim that "water" in John 3:5 is figurative? Is it that the language would make no sense if understood literally? Look at John 3:5 again. Is there anything in the context that would forbid the ordinary, literal meaning of the word water? Is there anything in the context that would force one to believe that the word water is figurative? We also need to ask this question: How would Jesus have said "be born of water" if He had intended for us to understand that we must be born of literal water?

A well known rule for interpreting the Bible, or any other literature, is that a word must be understood in its ordinary, literal sense unless something in the circumstances (context) will not allow it. Either this is a valid rule or the Bible is a book of nonsense in which every word might mean something else.

WHAT DOES "WATER" REFER TO?

"Water" in John 3:5 can only refer to one thing, and that is the water of baptism. In being baptized a person is buried in water (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12), then he emerges from it. In this manner he is born of water. Can you think of any other act connected with the kingdom of Christ that requires water?

In Colossians 1:18 Christ is referred to as "...the firstborn from the dead..." The reference is to His resurrection from the dead. This teaches that when Jesus rose from the dead that He was born from the dead. In baptism there is a resurrection from the water (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12) in the likeness of Christ's resurrection from the dead. A person is buried in water and arises from the water to "walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4). A resurrection from water, then, is a birth of water. There can be no doubt that the birth of water in John 3:5 is a reference to rising from the water of baptism.

BAPTISM AND THE KINGDOM

If what is stated about the new birth above is true, then that makes baptism an essential part of the plan of salvation.

Notice:

In Colossians 1:13 the Bible says, "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love..." A person is either in the power of darkness or in the kingdom of God's Son. Those responsible people who have not been conveyed (transferred) into the kingdom are still in the power of darkness. Baptism is essential to entrance into the kingdom (John 3:5), thus baptism is essential to salvation. It is interesting that Paul tells the Colossians who lived in the first century that they had been conveyed into the kingdom of Christ, showing that the kingdom existed in the first century and is not something we look for Jesus to sit up in our future. The kingdom is already here and we must be members of it to be saved. The way we enter into the Kingdom is by obedience to the gospel, and the last step in that initial gospel obedience is baptism.


MARK 16:15-16

After His resurrection Jesus gave this command to the apostles: ". . . "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. " (Mark 16:15-16).

WHAT DOES MARK 16:16a TEACH?   

According to Jesus, the preaching of the gospel would divide people into two classes. A person would be in one class or the other depending on his reaction to the gospel. Those in one class would be saved. Those in the other class would be condemned. Jesus describes the person who "will be saved." He also describes the person who "will be condemned."

Who is the person who Jesus said "will be saved?" "He who believes and is baptized will be saved." Jesus teaches that the person who "will be saved" must meet two qualifications: He "believes" and he is "baptized." Jesus did not say, "He who only believes will be saved." Nor did He say, "He who is only baptized will be saved." What did He say?

There can be no mistake. It's as simple as 1+1=2. Jesus makes two conditions or qualifications -- belief and baptism -- essential to salvation.

ILLUSTRATIONS

Let me give a simple illustration to make the point absolutely clear. Consider these parallel statements:

  1. "He who believes and holds out his hand will receive $1000." No intelligent person could fail to see that two conditions are involved in this statement -- that is, two acts must be performed to receive the $1000. One must believe and one must hold out his hand. One cannot receive the $1000 without meeting both qualifications.

  2. "He who believes and is baptized will receive $1000. No one can misunderstand this statement. There are two qualifications to receiving the $1000. One must believe and one must be baptized. This is so easy to understand that if I made this statement to a group of people and they truly believed they would receive the $1000 there would be a stampede to the water because everyone of us can use a thousand dollars! But no one could claim the thousand dollars simply by believing. One could only claim the thousand dollars after he had met both conditions.

Let us sum up by comparing these illustrations like this:

Why is it so hard to just accept what Jesus said in Mark 16:16? The answer to this question is not that Jesus' statement is hard to understand in and of itself, but that many people believe that understanding this passage to teach the necessity of baptism to salvation contradicts what other passages teach about grace, faith, the blood of Christ and works. I assure you that the Bible does not contradict itself. Please stay with me and if you have an open mind, we will prove this to you by what the Scriptures teach!

IF ONE REFUSES TO BE BAPTIZED
DOES IT RESULT IN CONDEMNATION?

Who did Jesus say "will be saved?" He said, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved." The gospel was to be preached to the whole world, and out of all the sinners to whom the gospel was to be preached the one who "will be saved" is the one who "believes and is baptized." This is the one who "will be saved" and all others "will be condemned." If a person is saved he is rescued from condemnation. If he is not saved he is condemned. Jesus said that of all the people to whom the gospel is preached, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved." The person who does not meet these conditions "will be condemned."

WHAT DOES MARK 16:16b TEACH?

In the latter part of Mark 16:16 Jesus specifically describes the person who "will be condemned." "He who does not believe will be condemned." Why did Jesus not add, "And he that is not baptized will be condemned" if baptism is essential to salvation? Simple! Those who believed would be baptized! "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized" (Acts 2:41). "But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. . . (Acts 8:12). This is what happened when the gospel was preached. Those who believed the gospel were baptized. It was unbelievers who were not baptized. Why did Jesus not need to add "and those who are not baptized will be condemned?" Because He had already included that group when He said, "he who does not believe will be condemned."

In giving the great commission Jesus understood that the preaching of the gospel would divide all responsible people into two groups. Some would believe and be baptized. Some would not believe. He said nothing of a third group -- those who would believe and refuse to be baptized -- for the simple reason that there would be no such third group.

This verse is like many others of the same type. For example, in Isaiah 1:19-20 God said through the prophet, "If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword"; for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken." What about people who were not wholly "willing and obedient" but were not really rebellious either? The Lord did not know about such people! There was no such group! He knew of only two groups -- those who were "willing and obedient" and those who "refuse and rebel." A person is either in one group or the other. Jesus stated the principle which underlies such passages in Matthew 12:30 where He said, "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad."

So it is in Mark 16:16. The Lord simply does not conceive of a group of people who would truly believe and refuse to be baptized. Some modern preachers speak of the "sincere, trustful believer who will not be baptized." The argument is based on the fact that the Lord said, "He who does not believe will be condemned," but did not add "he who is not baptized will be condemned" implying the existence of true believers who would refuse baptism. But the Lord did not know of any such person. The person who will not be baptized is an unbeliever! He shows his unbelief by refusing to obey the Lord's command to be baptized. It is no wonder that Jesus did not describe a third group -- those who believe and will not be baptized -- and tell their destiny. There is no third group! Two groups cover every case! The person who will not obey the Lord is an unbeliever and "He who does not believe will be condemned."

Of course it is possible to have faith of a sort without obeying Christ (cf. John 2:23-25; John 8:30-34; John 12:42-43; Acts 26:27-29; James 2:19). But this believing which does not involve such trust in Christ that would lead one to obey Him is not saving faith and is actually unbelief! Jesus taught that the believer is saved (John 3:16, 36; John 5:24; etc...) Yet there are those such as the Jews of John 8:31-34 who believe but remain slaves of sin. Such people are certainly not the believers Jesus has in mind in Mark 16:15-16. People who refuse to obey the Lord in being baptized may be like the "believers" of John 8:31-34; 12:42-43, etc..., but they certainly do not have the faith of John 3:16 and other such passages. They are without true saving faith, and their destiny is that of the unbeliever because they would fit into the category of the unbeliever in Mark 16:15-16. 


ACTS 2:38

On the first Pentecost following the resurrection of our Lord, Peter and the rest of the apostles preached the first gospel sermon after Jesus' resurrection. In that sermon the people who were assembled that day were charged with Jesus' murder. Some of them being convicted of this crime and feeling the guilt of it ask, "what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). At that point, following the great commission of our Lord (Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:18-20), Peter gave the following answer: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38).

TWO NECESSARY STEPS

Peter told the Jews that two steps must be taken to be forgiven of their sins: (1) He told them to repent. (2) He told them to be baptized. These two actions to be taken are tied together by the conjunction "and." Peter said, "repent, and be baptized." Both of these actions are connected to a third relevant element of the sentence, the prepositional phrase, "for the remission (forgiveness) of sins." Both actions stand in exactly the same relation to this phrase. Peter did not say, "Repent for the remission of sins," and he did not say, "Be baptized for the remission of sins." What he did say is, "Repent and be baptized . . . for the remission of sins."

[Note: It seems to me that if a person can't do anything to be saved that this would have been a perfect time for Peter to so teach. Notice that when these people ask the apostles "what shall we do," Peter did not say, "There is nothing for you to do. Jesus has done it all. All you have to do is believe and then ask for His forgiveness by repeating this prayer after me." That's how it's taught today, but is that what Peter taught? Is that how he answered the question, "what shall we do?" Please read Peter's answer again.]

What this means is that repentance and baptism stand in exactly the same relation to the remission of sins. That relation to the remission of sins - which is the same for both repentance and baptism - is expressed by the preposition "for" in the NKJV and the word "unto" in the ASV. It is the Greek word eis. What is the relationship between repentance and baptism on the one hand and the remission of sins on the other which is expressed by eis?

[Note: One of the ways that some folks try to invalidate the force of the above argument is by attempting to sever the connection between the verbs "repent" and "be baptized" (even though they are connected by the coordinate "and") on the ground that the former term is plural in number, while the latter is singular. This argument is dealt with in a fine way by Wayne Jackson in an article entitle "Acts 2:38 - Not So Tough."]

MEANING OF "eis"

The fundamental meaning of the Greek word eis is "into." This basic meaning will be modified by usage in various contexts, but "into" remains the fundamental significance. Winer says that eis is "the opposite of ek." (George Benedict Winer, A Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament, 7th edition, 396). He gives Romans 1:17 and Romans 5:16 as examples to illustrate this.  Respecting ek he writes, "Ek originally denotes issuing from within (the compass, sphere, of) something (antithetic to eis Luke 10:7; 17:24..) ..." (Ibid, 366). So the basic significance of ek is "out of," and the basic significance of eis is "into." 

Ek is used in Mark 1:10. Jesus came up "out of"  (ek) (NKJV-"up from") the water. Jesus could not have come up "out of" the water unless he had first gone down "into" the water. In fact, in Acts 8:38 the Bible says both Philip and the eunuch went down "into" (eis) the water, and in Acts 8:39 it says that they came up "out of" (ek) the water. In baptism one goes down "into" (eis) the remission of sins. Repentance and baptism are viewed as bringing one "into" the remission of sins -- into the sphere, state, or condition in which one receives remission of sins. When this is put into idiomatic English it reads something like this: "Repent and be baptized in order to obtain the remission of sins." And that is the way the authorities translate Peter's statement.

Winer further says, respecting eis: "Used topically, of ideal relations, it denotes any aim or end; . . .; the purpose and end in view..." (Ibid, 396-397). He lists Acts 2:38 as one of the examples of this usage. Therefore, one may say that according to this noted grammarian the aim, end, or purpose of repentance and baptism as stated in Acts 2:38 is the remission of sins.

Not to confine the case to one Greek scholar the following additional testimony is offered: In Grimm's Greek-English Lexicon translated with additions by Joseph Henry Thayer the uses of baptizo (baptize or immerse) with various prepositions are discussed. He states that baptizo is used with the preposition eis "to mark the end" in such passages as Acts 2:38. Specifically writing about Acts 2:38 he has, "eis aphesin hamartion, to obtain the forgiveness of sins, Acts ii.38" (page 94). Eis aphesin hamartion is the phrase rendered in the NKJV as "for the remission of sins," and Grimm says it means "to obtain the forgiveness of sins."

The Greek-English Lexicon of Walter Bauer, translated by Arndt and Gingrich, is equally clear. It says that baptizo is used "with the purpose given eis aphesin ton hamartion Acts 2:38 (page 131). One of the uses of eis is "to indicate the goal." Under this major heading Bauer has a subdivision indicating that eis is used "to denote purpose" and means "in order to, to." The illustration given is Acts 2:38, eis aphesin hamartion, which Bauer translates, "for the forgiveness of sins, so that sins might be forgiven" (page 228).

H. A. W. Meyer, wrote, "eis denotes the object of the baptism, which is the remission of the guilt contracted in the state before metanoia." (H. A. W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, 4th edition, 67).  Metanoia is the Greek word which means repentance.

Even many scholars whose religious views deny the necessity of baptism for salvation have seen the force of this passage and have put aside their personal beliefs to translate correctly in agreement with the scholars quoted above. J. W. Willmarth, a Baptist preacher and scholar, in his article entitled "Baptism and Remission," which originally appeared in The Baptist Quarterly (July, 1877) and was reprinted in 1908 by J. W. Shepherd, concludes his exegesis by stating: "We conclude without hesitation, and in accordance with such authorities as Hackett, Winer, Meyer, etc., that the proper rendering of eis aphesin hamartion in Acts 2:38, as in Matthew 26:28, is unto, for, i.e., in order to, Remission of Sins."

The Baptist commentator Horatio B. Hackett, referred to in the quotation from Willmarth, translates, "in order to the forgiveness of sins." (Horatio B. Hackett, A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles -- Volume IV of An American Commentary on the New Testament -- 53).

Two Baptist scholars, Charles B. Williams and Edgar J. Goodspeed, have given two of the most forceful translations of this verse. Williams translates, "You must repent -- and, as an expression of it, let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ -- that you may have your sins forgiven; and then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Goodspeed translates, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, in order to have your sins forgiven; then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

The majority of English translations of the Bible, almost without exception, translate the phrase "for the remission of sins" in harmony with the above scholars comments.  Notice the following:

  • King James Version - "for the remission of sins.
  • American Standard Version - "unto the remission of sins.
  • New King James Version - "for the remission of sins;"
  • New International Version - "for the forgiveness of your sins."
  • Revised Standard Version - "for the forgiveness of your sins;"
  • New Revised Standard Version - "so that your sins may be forgiven;"
  • New American Standard Bible - " for the forgiveness of your sins;"
  • World English Bible - "for the forgiveness of sins,"
  • Bible in Basic English - "for the forgiveness of your sins;"
  • Contemporary English Version - "so that your sins will be forgiven."
  • Good News Bible - "so that your sins will be forgiven;"
  • God's Word - "so that your sins will be forgiven."
  • Young's Literal Translation - "to remission of sins,"
  • Modern King James Version - "to remission of sins,"
  • International Standard Version - "for the forgiveness of your sins."
  • English Standard Version - "for the forgiveness of your sins,"
  • Literal Translation of the Holy Bible - "to remission of sins."
  • New English Translation - "for the forgiveness of your sins."
  • New Living Translation - "for the forgiveness of your sins"
  • Today's English Version - "so that your sins will be forgiven"
  • The Douay-Rheims Bible - "for the remission of your sins."
  • Hebrew Names Version - "for the forgiveness of sins"
  • The Webster Bible - "for the remission of sins"
  • Wesley's New Testament - "to the remission of sins"
  • Third Millennium Bible - "for the remission of sins"
  • The Darby Translation - "for the remission of sins"
  • J. B. Philips Translation - "so that you may have your sins forgiven"
  • New American Bible - "for the forgiveness of your sins;"
  • Amplified Bible - "for the forgiveness of and release from your sins;"
  • Worldwide English Bible - "Your wrong ways will be forgiven you"
  • Weymouth Bible - "with a view to the remission of your sins,"
  • Revised King James New Testament - "for the remission of sins"
  • Modern Literal Version - "for the forgiveness of your sins"
  • Common Version New Testament - "for the forgiveness of your sins;"
  • Interlinear Greek New Testament - "for remission of sins"
  • Living Oracles - "in order to the remission of sins"
  • Montgomery New Testament - "for the remission of your sins"
  • The Emphasized Bible - "into the remission of your sins"
  • Covenant Edition New Testament - "to cancel your sins"
  • Christian Standard Bible - "for the forgiveness of your sins."

After reading the above translations there can be no doubt that the overwhelming majority of scholarship agrees with what has been set forth in this study. Even those translations which are translated by people who take the personal view that baptism is not for the remission of sins render Acts 2:38 to show that it is. There is another interesting point also. I have not found one translation that translates the Greek word eis as "because of" in Acts 2:38. I wonder why? Could it be because the translators understand that it cannot be accurately translated by that phrase?"

PASSAGES COMPARED

Before we leave a study of Acts 2:38 there is another passage that I would like for you to consider. It is Jesus' statement in Matthew 26:28 where He said, "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Notice that the phrase "for the remission of sins" is identical to the phrase in Acts 2:38. This is true of both the English and the Greek. There can be no doubt (and I know of no one who claims to be a Christian who would take a different view) that Jesus shed His blood "for, with a view to, with the goal of, with the aim or end of, in order to, to" the remission or forgiveness of sins. He did not shed His blood "because of" remission of sins (i.e. because our sins were already forgiven), but in order to provide remission or forgiveness of sins. Whatever difficulties one may have in understanding the phrase in Acts 2:38 there can be no doubt what it means in Matthew 26:28. It is the exact same phrase in both the English and the Greek and it is used in exactly the same way in both passages.

Notice:

  • "Be baptized for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38).

  • "Blood shed for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28).

What is put beyond the slightest question is that baptism and the blood of Christ stand in exactly the same relation to the remission of sins! Matthew 26:28 forever fixes the meaning of eis aphesin hamartion or "for the remission of sins." That phrase can only mean "to obtain the forgiveness of sins," and that makes baptism a condition of pardon from sin. We will see later in this study how baptism and the blood of Christ are related and why "for the remission of sins" can be the purpose of both.

AN OBJECTION CONSIDERED

Some who reject what has been set forth in the above discussion of "eis" suggest that the word can mean "because of" and they believe they have found an example of this in Matthew 12:41.  Matthew 12:41 says, "The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here."  The word rendered "at" (NKJV) in the phrase "at the preaching of Jonah" is the Greek word "eis."    Those who refer to this passage as an example of the word "eis" meaning "because of" say that the men of Nineveh did not repent "into" or "unto" or "in order to" the preaching of Jonah, but "because of" the preaching of Jonah. Thus, they believe they have found evidence that the word "eis" can mean "because of." Their conclusion is that because the word "eis" means "because of" in Matthew 12:41, it also means "because of" in Acts 2:38 which (in their minds) means that one is to be baptized because his sins have already been forgiven. In other words, baptism is not for the forgiveness of sins, but one is saved before baptism and at the point of faith.

Is Matthew 12:41 the passage that proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that our understanding of "eis" in Acts 2:38 is in error?  No, it is not.  The question is this: is there any reasonable view of this passage that would allow us to apply the normal  meaning ("into", "unto", "in order to", "toward") of the word "eis" in this passage?  And the answer to this question is, yes.

Wayne Jackson made the following comments concerning Matthew 12:41:

"Here are the facts of the case. The people of Nineveh were in rebellion against God. Because of his concern for the souls of these pagans, Jehovah dispatched his prophet, Jonah, to preach a message of repentance to them. That message was designed to bring them into a penitent state, a reformed life, which would be reflected in turning away from their sins. This is precisely what happened (Jonah 3:10).

By means of a common figure of speech called metonymy - a form of which states a cause, which, in actuality, stands for an effect. Here is an example. When Job said: 'My arrow is incurable' (34:6), he referred to an affliction (allegedly rendered by God). The term 'arrow,' however, is a form of metonymy, the cause standing for the effect (Terry, pp. 160-161; cf. Dungan, pp. 271-276).

Similarly, as a result of Jonah's proclamation, the citizens of Nineveh turned, transforming minds and deeds into a reformed state of life demanded by his message. The internationally recognized scholar, J.W. McGarvey, carefully explained the matter in his commentary on Matthew.

'The preposition here rendered 'at' is eis, which usually means 'into.' Some writers have contended that it here means 'because of,' or 'in consequence of,' a meaning quite foreign to the word. It is true, as a matter of fact, that the Ninevites repented in consequence of the preaching of Jonah; but had it been the purpose of the writer to express this thought, he would have used the preposition dia instead of eis. The thought of the passage is quite distinct from this. They repented into the preaching of Jonah. This is not idiomatic English, but it conveys the exact thought a Greek would derive from the original. The term 'preaching' is put for the course of life required by the preaching, and it is asserted that they repented into this. Their repentance, in other words, brought them into the course of life required by the preaching, and it is asserted that they repented into this' (p. 113).  This is a perfectly reasonable explanation of the passage, quite in harmony with the use of the preposition elsewhere in the New Testament.'  (
McGarvey, J.W., The New Testament Commentary � Matthew and Mark Des Moines, IA: Eugene Smith Reprint).

This is a far more responsible exercise of exegetical skills than that which has been proffered by some biased scholars of a by-gone era." (Wayne Jackson, The Use of the Preposition "Eis" in Matthew 12:41 Christian Courier Web Page).
 

There is no comfort in Matthew 12:41 for those who reject the truth of Acts 2:38. Acts 2:38 forever stands as a passage that teaches the necessity of repentance and baptism for the remission of sins.


ACTS 22:16

In this passage we learn of a man named Saul of Tarsus who had been blind and without food or drink for three days (Acts 9:9). Saul had been praying (Acts 9:11), but despite the fact that he was praying he was still in his sins as we shall see. The word of the Lord was brought by Ananias to Saul. After laying his hands on him, and Saul receiving his sight, Ananias told him, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." We know that Saul was yet in his sins (even though he had been praying) because of what Ananias said. It would have made no sense for Ananias to tell Saul to "wash away your sins" if his sins had been washed away the moment he believed in Christ or as a result of prayer.

In regard to this passage and in reference to 1 Corinthians 6:11, the only two New Testament uses of the verb translated  "wash away" (Greek: apolouo) Grimm says,

"For the sinner is unclean, polluted as it were by the filth of his sins. Whoever obtains remission of sins has his sins put, so to speak, out of God's sight, -- is cleansed from them in the sight of God. Remission is (represented as) obtained by undergoing baptism; hence those who have gone down into the baptismal bath are said apolousasthai to have washed themselves, or tas hamart. Apolousasthia to have washed away their sins, i.e. to have been cleansed from their sins (C. L. Wilibald Grimm's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, translated with additions by Joseph Henry Thayer, p. 65). [Note: "(represented as)" in the above quotation was added by Thayer].

The sinner is guilty of sin and needs forgiveness. He is filthy with sin and needs to be washed. Ananias would not have told Saul to wash away his sins if he were already clean. One who is clean does not need to be washed. To illustrate this look at John 13:1-17. Peter, misunderstanding Jesus, wanted him to wash not only his feet but his hands and head as well. Jesus said to him, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you." The person who is "bathed" or clean does not need to wash. Saul was told to wash because he was filthy with sin.

Not only did Ananias tell him to wash, but he connected that washing away of sins with baptism. "...be baptized and wash away your sins..." There is a washing or cleansing that takes place when one is baptized. In Ephesians 5:26, which we will study later, Jesus is said to cleanse the church by means of the washing of the water. We have seen that Peter tells the people on Pentecost day to be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). From the very nature of the act of baptism anyone seeing a person baptized would know that washing is involved. What Acts 22:16 teaches is that the washing that takes place in baptism is more than a mere outward, physical washing; one is to "be baptized, and wash away (his) sins."

As we stated above, Ananias would not have told Saul to wash away his sins if he were not filthy with sin -- i.e., if he were cleansed already. Further, he would not have told Saul to "be baptized" -- an act which clearly involves a bath or a washing -- "and wash away" his "sins" unless he meant for Saul to understand that the washing away of sins was to be accomplished during the act of baptism.

To help understand this statement let's look at some every day language that many of us use.  Suppose a man tells his son, "Playing time is over, wash away that dirt." Such a command would only make sense if the boy was dirty. Further, if the man told him, "Take a bath and wash away that dirt," no intelligent person could fail to recognize that it was by means of the taking of the bath that the dirt was to be washed away. That is exactly what Ananias told Saul! "Take a bath and wash away your sins." But the bath is baptism (cf. Titus 3:5). Whatever contradictions people might imagine when this verse is read, sins are clearly washed away when one is baptized.

Of course the washing away of sins is not to be understood literally. There is no literal washing away of sins -- not by baptism, not by faith, not by grace, and not by the blood of Christ. The forgiveness of sins takes place in the mind of God. But forgiveness of sins takes place when we obey God's will in being baptized in the likeness of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). Horatio B. Hackett, in his commentary says on page 420,

"And wash (bathe) away thy sins. This clause states a result of the baptism in language derived from the nature of that ordinance. It answers to for the remission of sins, in 2:38 -- i.e. submit to the rite in order to be forgiven. In both passages baptism is represented as having this importance or efficacy, because it is the sign of the repentance and faith which are the conditions of salvation."

I would not agree with Hacketts last statement about why baptism is so represented because it contradicts his first statement that one "submits to the rite in order to be forgiven." How can one state "...submit to the rite (baptism) in order to be forgiven" but then state "repentance and faith ... are the conditions of salvation" as if baptism had nothing to do with salvation? One wonders why Hackett could not see this contradiction.  However, the rest of his statement is correct. One is baptized to wash (bathe) away one's sins.

Some say that the language of Acts 22:16 refers only to a symbolic representation of forgiveness. Could this be true of Saul? Here is a man whose conscience was heavy with the guilt of persecuting the Messiah (Acts 22:7). He had not eaten or drank anything for three days. He was miserable. Yet, according to this view, Ananias came to this miserable man, and, instead of instructing him how he could obtain the forgiveness he so earnestly desired and escape his misery, spoke to him about a mere symbolic ceremony. How can anyone believe it?

The complete statement is, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Therefore, in seeking forgiveness in this manner Saul would not be relying on some magical effect of water; he would be relying on the Lord, making his appeal to the Lord in the divinely appointed manner (See comments on 1 Peter 3:21 in part 2).


ROMANS 6:1-7

"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin."

This passage emphasizes the death of the sinner to sin. The death of Christ is mentioned because it is by being crucified with Christ that the sinner dies to sin.

In the first five chapters of Romans Paul has argued that the sinner is justified by the grace of God apart from the works of the Law of Moses. In verse twenty of chapter five he had written, "Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more..." In the first verse of chapter six, Paul anticipates a possible perversion of this teaching by asking, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?"

In verse two Paul uses words that utterly rejects such a belief. "Certainly not!" Literally, "May it never be!" The belief that one should sin more so that grace would abound more is entirely inconsistent with the Christian life. "How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" A Christian is dead to sin. How can he live in it? Such a thought is as outrageous as to speak of a man who is physically dead and alive at the same time.

In verses three and four the apostle explains when and how this death to sin took place. "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." How could anyone doubt that a Christian is dead to sin? To say that a Christian can keep sinning so that grace may abound is to show ignorance of the significance of baptism. Baptism puts the sinner into Christ. This union which is formed between the sinner and Christ extends so far as the death and resurrection of Christ. The sinner enters into the death of Christ, thus to die with Him. That tells when and how the death to sin takes place.

In verses 5 and 6 Paul explains baptism "into death." He says, "For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death...", The King James Version says, "planted together" for "united together." The Greek word is sumphutos which means "grown together" according to Meyer. The meaning is: We have grown together or become united with him in the likeness of his death.

This explains the statement in verse three, we "were baptized into his death." In baptism the sinner comes into union with Jesus in His death. Thus, he dies with Christ. Verse six tells us that "our old man was crucified with him"

The word likeness does not in any way support those who deny this significance of baptism. Certainly the sinner does not literally go back in time to the first century and cross the waters to Palestine to be nailed to the cross with Jesus. But He is united in the likeness of the death of Christ. The thought is that as Jesus literally died on the cross the sinner morally and ethically dies to sin when he is baptized into the death of Christ, thus to be united with Christ in the likeness of his death.

Paul says, "...our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin; for he who has died has been freed from sin." The Greek word for "freed" is the verb dikaioo, which is translated "to justify" in Romans 2:13; 3:4, 20, 24, 28, 30; 4:2, 5; 5:1, 9; etc... This is legal terminology and refers to the act of the judge in rendering a verdict of "not guilty;" i.e. he declares the defendant righteous (dikaios) or free of guilt. When this verdict is pronounced the defendant is released. Thus, the ASV footnote has "released"; Other translations have "freed" in the text and "acquitted" in the footnote.

The teaching in this text is that the sinner is the bond-slave of sin [Note: a "bond-slave" is one who willingly becomes a slave]. This concept of sin as a master and the sinner as a bond-slave is emphasized throughout the chapter. But the point of verse seven is that when the sinner dies (to sin) that bond is broken and the sinner goes free. The same is true concerning any slave-master relationship.

A passage in the book of Job illustrates this. In chapter three Job speaks of death when he says, "There the prisoners are at ease together; they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster. The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master" (Job 3:18-19 ASV). Notice the phrase, "the servant is free from his master." They were made free because they died. So it is in Romans 6:6-7! "...whoever commits sin is a slave of sin." (John 8:34). As long as a person is alive to sin he serves that master. But when he dies to sin that bond is broken and sin is no longer his master. Now God is his master and thus he lives in "newness of life."

The critical questions for the purpose of our study are these: When does this death take place and how is it brought about? Paul does not leave us wondering. The sinner is baptized into the death of Christ (verse 3) thus uniting with him in the likeness of his death (verse 5), the old man being crucified with him (verse 6). That makes baptism essential to freedom from sin. He who has not been baptized into the death of Christ is yet alive unto sin; he remains a bond-slave of sin. If he continues his refusal to be baptized he will receive the wages of sin which is spiritual death (Romans 6:23).

Just another point concerning Romans six.  Where did Christ shed His blood? Wasn't it in His death? The Holy Spirit through Paul says, "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?" Why is it necessary to be baptized into Jesus' death? Because that is where He shed His blood and it is His blood that washes away our sins (Matthew 26:28). Thus, baptism is the point of contact with Christ's blood which provides salvation. This one point ought to help us see the necessity of baptism for the forgiveness of sins. The person who would say that baptism is not essential to salvation is really saying that Christ's blood and hence His death is not necessary for salvation. What believer in Christ would take that view? And yet, to deny the necessity of baptism where one is baptized into the death of Christ where He shed His blood and thus comes in contact with His blood, is the same thing as saying that Christ's death and shed blood are not necessary to salvation. 


1 CORINTHIANS 1:12-13

Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"

THE BACKGROUND OF THIS PASSAGE

Paul had received a report of "contentions" among the Corinthians (verse 11). In verse 12 he explains the nature of these contentions. Each one of the Corinthians had lined up with a faction. Some said, "I am of Paul"... That is, "I am a follower of Paul," or "I belong to Paul." Others said, "I am of Apollos"; others, "I am of Cephas," and still others, "I am of Christ."

Paul gives a stinging rebuke of this attitude by asking three questions. These are rhetorical questions. He does not wait for an answer. But the answer to each of them is obviously a resounding, "NO!"

The first of these questions is, "Is Christ divided?" These people were acting as if Christ was divided. God's people are supposed to be united under Christ not divided into different factions or groups following different men. Christ is not divided (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12). Therefore, this situation was completely unacceptable.  And I might add, it's just as unacceptable today as it was then.

Paul points out that in order for the people to properly claim to be "of Paul" there were two things necessary:

  • First, Paul would have had to have been crucified for them;

  • Second, they would have had to be baptized into the name of Paul.

Here are two reasons that no one can say, "I am of Paul." Jesus paid the purchase price; people should only belong to Him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). So when Paul asked, "Was Paul crucified for you?", the answer is, "No!" They could not rightly and scripturally say they were of Paul unless Paul had been crucified for them.

Then Paul asks, "Were you baptized into the name of Paul?" If they were not baptized into the name of Paul, then they could not rightly and scripturally say they were of Paul.

What this tells us is that at least two things are necessary for one to properly belong to Paul. (1) Paul must be crucified for him. (2) He must be baptized into the name of Paul. The Corinthians could not say, "I am of Paul" because Paul had not been crucified for them and they had not been baptized  into his name.

What was true of Paul is also true of the other persons listed. Paul's logic applies equally to Apollos. Was Apollos crucified for you? No! Then you cannot say "I am of Apollos." Where you baptized into the name of Apollos? No! Then you cannot say, "I am of Apollos." The same could be said of Cephas.

But some said, "I am of Christ." Could they rightfully say this? Yes! Why? Because Christ had been crucified for them and they had been baptized into the name of Christ.

TWO THINGS NECESSARY TO BE "OF CHRIST"

What Paul has taught is that two things are necessary in order for one to belong to any person religiously: 

No one has a right to say, "I am of Christ," i.e. "I belong to Christ," or "I am a Christian," unless Christ has been crucified for him and unless he has been baptized into the name of Christ. That makes baptism just as essential to becoming a Christian and being saved as Christ's crucifixion! Let's sum it up like this:



A SUMMARY OF WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED

Six specific arguments based upon an examination of six specific passages have now been offered in support of the proposition that baptism is essential to one receiving salvation from sin:

  1. John 3:5 makes baptism necessary to entrance into the kingdom of God. Since membership in the kingdom is necessary to salvation, baptism stands between the sinner and salvation.

  2. Mark 16:16 teaches that of all the people in the world to whom the gospel was to be preached, the one who "will be saved" is the one who "believes and is baptized."
  3. Acts 2:38 teaches that the purpose of baptism is "the remission of sins" -- That is, "in order to obtain remission (forgiveness) of sins;" "so that sins might be forgiven", or "in order to have your sins forgiven."
  4. Acts 22:16 teaches that baptism is the place where sins are washed away -- i.e. in literal terms, when one is baptized his sins are forgiven.
     

  5. Romans 6:1-7 teaches that baptism is the means by which the sinner is united with the death of Christ where He shed His blood, dying with Christ, thus being made free from sin by contacting the blood of Christ. One arises from the watery grave of baptism to "walk in newness of life" because he has died to sin (the old life).
     

  6.  1 Corinthians 1:12-13 teaches that baptism is one of at least two conditions necessary to a person being "of Christ" -- i.e. belonging to Christ, being a Christian.

I submit these arguments as absolute proof that baptism is a condition of salvation (i.e. necessary to salvation) and is ordained by God. We must obey God's command to be baptized BEFORE we can receive salvation in Christ!

In part 2 of our study, we want to begin to show baptism's specific place in God's plan of salvation for mankind. Many people, while recognizing the force of the arguments set forth above, will have reservations growing not so much out of objections to these arguments as out of what they conceive to be a conflict between the teaching of the six passages discussed above and the teaching of the Bible on other subjects -- i.e. faith, grace, the blood of Christ, and the statements that salvation is "not of works." If you object to the above arguments on this grounds I commend you for insisting that any position taken must be in harmony with everything taught in the Bible. But I also must caution you to make sure you have examined all the relevant data yourself before making your final judgment. I am convinced that proper attention to certain passages will make one wonder how the idea of a conflict between baptism and faith, grace, the blood of Christ or works could ever have been imagined.

Please examine the passages in the next lesson honestly as we study the relation of baptism to the others things mentioned in the above paragraph. PLEASE DON'T STOP HERE! GO TO PART 2.

 

THE PLACE OF BAPTISM
IN GOD'S PLAN OF SALVATION
PART 2

In part 1 of our study we set forth the passages in the New Testament that teach the necessity of baptism for the remission of sins.  In part 2 we will show that the Bible teaches that there is no conflict between the passages that teach the necessity of baptism for salvation and the subjects of faith, grace, works and the blood of Christ.

BAPTISM AND FAITH

There are two propositions that may be confidently set down as stating indisputable facts:

  • The Scriptures teach that the sinner is saved by faith.

  • The Scriptures teach that the salvation of the sinner comes when he is baptized and not before.

The first proposition is established by passages like John 3:16, Acts 10:43, and Romans 5:1. The latter is made unquestionable by the six passages already considered in this study.

According to some, however, these propositions are contradictory. There are many who believe that they cannot both be true. If that is so, then it must be confessed that the Bible contradicts itself, because the Bible truly teaches both that the sinner is saved by faith and that the salvation of the sinner comes at baptism. My friends, the propositions are not in conflict. In fact, the two propositions may be stated in harmony like this: The scriptures teach that a sinner is saved by faith when he is baptized. This is without doubt the truth of the matter. Let us examine several passages that teach this vital truth.

HEBREWS 11:30

"By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were encircled for seven days." This is a reference to the sixth chapter of Joshua. What does this have to do with the discussion at hand? Let us see. God had instructed the people of Israel to march around the walls of Jericho with the promised result of the walls falling down. Question: How did the walls fall? Someone might answer by saying, "by marching." But that is not what the passage says. It says the walls fell by faith! To be more specific, it says the walls fell by faith when the Israelites completed their obedience by marching.

The complete harmony and unity of that account must certainly be conceded. That would seem to eliminate any possible anxieties as to how salvation can be by faith but only when one is baptized. If one can understand that the walls of Jericho fell by faith -- not by marching -- but only after the marching, then he should have no difficulty accepting the teaching of the Bible that the sinner is saved by faith when he is baptized. Further, if one can understand that the marching was essential, and that the walls did not and would not fall down without it, then it should not disturb him to find that the Bible teaches the necessity of baptism to salvation and at the same time says the sinner is saved by faith.

The fact is that the marching was faith! It was faith in action, faith expressed, faith embodied. What is seen in that marching certainly is not human wisdom and reason. From the standpoint of pure human wisdom the marching was utter foolishness. Human reason would never have suggested such a plan for taking the city. It is faith in action that is seen in that marching. Total and complete trust in the word of God.

It is equally correct to say that baptism is faith. Baptism is faith in action, faith expressed, faith embodied. It is an act of faith. Certainly human wisdom would see no connection between baptism and salvation, just as human wisdom could see no connection between marching and the walls of Jericho falling down. The people of Israel had to have complete trust in God's word to obey the marching orders. One must have complete trust in God's word today to obey the command to be baptized, for human reasoning sees no connection in either case. That is why the Bible can tell us at the same time that baptism is essential to salvation AND that the sinner is saved by faith. The relation between baptism and faith is clearly set forth in the next passage to be considered.

But before we leave this account there is one other thing that needs to be pointed out. God gave the city of Jericho to Israel. It was a gift. Notice Joshua 6:2 - "And Yahwah said to Joshua, See, I have given Jericho into your hand, and its king, and the mighty men of valor" (ASV). Jericho was a gift but that did not rule out the fact that there was something they had to do before the gift was realized. Read the next three verses. It was not until they had done what God instructed that they received the gift of Jericho. There are many today who think that because the Bible teaches that salvation is a free gift that necessarily excludes man doing anything to receive it. However, we do not accept that "reasoning" in any other realm. If I held out a $100 bill to you and told you it was a free gift, is there anything you would have to do to receive that gift? Yes, you would have to reach out and take it. Simply because I wanted you to have the gift doesn't mean that you would automatically receive it. I could not force it on you if you didn't want it. But if you did want it you would have to reach out and take it. The same is true of salvation. God doesn't force salvation on any of us. He holds it out to us, He wants us to receive it, but we have to reach out and take it. And the way God has ordained that we receive it is simply to humble ourselves to do His will just like Israel had to do to take Jericho. We don't earn our salvation by humbling ourselves in obedience to God's will today to receive salvation anymore than Israel earned the city of Jericho.

GALATIANS 3:26-27

"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."

Verse 26 states the present condition of the Galatians. They are sons of God. What made them sons of God is faith. They are sons of God "through faith."  This is their present condition.

Verse 27 states something that had happened in the past -- i.e., as many of the Galatians as were [past tense] baptized into Christ had put on Christ. The present condition of the Galatians (verse 26) stands in a certain relationship to something that had happened in the past (verse 27). What is that relationship between the present condition and the past occurrence?

The relationship between the two is expressed by the word "for" which stands at the beginning of verse 27 and connects the two verses together. "For" is the translation of the Greek conjunction "gar." Grimm expresses the function of this conjunction in the following way:

"It adduces the Cause or gives the Reason of a preceding statement or opinion;..." (Grimm's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, page 109).

In the present case a statement is made in verse 26: "For you are all the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." Verse 27 gives the reason that statement is so. This reason is introduced by the conjunction gar which is rendered "for." "For" -- i.e., the reason is; the cause is -- "as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." The reason they were at the present time sons of God through faith in Christ is that in the past they had been baptized into Christ and thus had put on Christ. This makes baptism necessary to becoming sons of God through faith!  One cannot become a child of God through faith until one is baptized into Christ and thus puts on Christ. This connects faith and baptism together and shows how one becomes a child of God through (by) faith. The act that made the Galatians sons of God through faith was their baptism into Christ by which they put on Christ. The faith which made them sons of God included baptism. Baptism is an act of faith! Baptism then, is an essential element of the faith which makes people children of God (Christians). Without baptism the faith which makes a person a child of God is not present.

The question that now demands the attention of every seeker of truth is: How can baptism as a condition of pardon be inconsistent with salvation by faith when baptism is an essential part of that faith by which a person's sins are pardoned and he is made a child of God? Baptism is not inconsistent with faith. Baptism is itself faith -- i.e., an act of faith, faith expressed, faith embodied. This is the real place of baptism in the plan of salvation so far as it relates to faith. When this is understood there will be no objection to baptism for the remission of sins on the ground of a conflict between that and salvation by faith.


BAPTISM AND GRACE

EPHESIANS 5:26

No other New Testament writer gave as much emphasis to salvation by grace as the apostle Paul did. Yet, in the two letters which give the most direct attention to the subject, Romans and Galatians, Paul strongly affirms the necessity of baptism to salvation (Romans 6:1-7; Galatians 3:26-27). He evidently saw no conflict between salvation by grace and the necessity of baptism. When one sees a conflict between the two, there is something defective in his understanding of either grace, baptism, or both since Paul saw no conflict. When all the relevant passages are closely considered this defect will be removed and one can have the same insight into the divine wisdom on this subject that Paul had.

A most important passage in this connection is Ephesians 5:25-26. In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul had strongly insisted that the sinner is saved by grace and not by works. But in Ephesians 5:25-26 he speaks of baptism in such terms as to leave no doubt of the complete unity between salvation by grace and the cleansing produced in baptism. The passage reads as follows:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,

MEANING OF "THE WASHING OF WATER"

A literal translation of the Greek would be "the washing of the water." This expression can refer to nothing else than baptism in water. The Baptist Charles B. Williams, though his personal position influenced him to the extent that he gives an "eisegesis" instead of a translation in the text of his translation, acknowledges in the footnote that the reference is "to water baptism." Until recent years commentators almost without exception approve of this reference.

The reason for such complete agreement is obvious. As Charles Hodge, the noted 19th century Calvinistic commentator and former professor in the theological seminary at Princeton said,

"Baptism is a washing with water. It was the washing with water with which Paul's readers as Christians were familiar, and which could not fail to occur to them as the washing intended. Besides, nothing more is here attributed to baptism than is attributed to it in many other passages of the word of God. Compare particularly Acts 22:16,...There can be little doubt, therefore, that by 'the washing with water,' the apostle meant baptism." (Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, page 319).

Moses Lard said,

"That the term water, or, more correctly, the water, as it is in the original, has here its hard Saxon meaning, is not a disputable point. Joining to this the word washing, or, better still, the washing, thereby making the washing of or in the water, or the water in which the church (members of it) has been washed, can any one whose soul is not steeped in error be in doubt as to what the apostle means?
There is but one rite under Christ to which water is absolutely in all cases essential, and to which all who are members of his church have submitted. That rite is baptism. Here, however, water is present, -- water in which the church is washed; hence, since the church comes in contact with water in no rite but baptism, baptism is, or, rather, of necessity must be, what the apostle refers to when he says the washing of water." (Moses Lard, Review of Campbellism Examined, 240).

The words of both of these men are exactly what this passage teaches. Every member of the church was washed in water when he was baptized. Baptism is the only washing of water exclusively related to the teaching of Christ that has been experienced by every member of the church. It follows that Paul's original readers, as Christians and members of the church, could not have thought of anything else when he wrote to them of "the washing of the water." "The washing of the water" refers to baptism.

THE CLEANSING OF THE CHURCH

Christ is said to cleanse the church by the washing of the water. The verb katharizo means to cleanse or make clean in a general sense. It is applied to things -- i.e., a cup (Matthew 23:25) and meats (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:15). It is also applied to persons. It is applied to the cleansing of persons from leprosy (Matthew 8:2), and to the cleansing of persons from sin (1 John 1:7, 9). In addition, Hebrews 1:3 and 2 Peter 1:9 may be mentioned as cases in which the noun katharismos is applied to the cleansing or purification of persons from sin.

What sort of cleansing is under consideration in Ephesians 5:25-26? This question is answered conclusively by Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16. The former has "...be baptized for the remission of sins"; and the latter, "...be baptized and wash away your sins." The washing of water can only refer to baptism, and the cleansing that takes place in connection with this washing of water is a cleansing from sin, spoken of figuratively in Acts 22:16 as "the washing away of sins" and literally in Acts 2:38 as the "remission [forgiveness] of sins."

Therefore, the cleansing under consideration in Ephesians 5:25-26 is not a cleansing from dirt or from leprosy; it is a cleansing from sin. What Paul has stated is that Christ cleansed the church from sin "by the washing of the water," the significance of which we will discuss next.

SIGNIFICANCE OF "BY THE WASHING OF THE WATER"

The words "the washing" are in the dative case in Greek. This is a dative of means. In discussing the dative of means Machen writes,

 "The simple dative without any preposition sometimes expresses means or instrument." (J. Gresham Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners, 43).

In distinguishing the dative of means from the preposition meta used with the genitive case, the same authority adds,

"meta with the genitive means with in the sense of in company with: the dative means with in the sense of by means of." (Ibid., 44).

What this means is that the passage makes the washing of the water, or baptism, a means or instrument of the cleansing from sin. Christ cleanses the church. The means or the instrument Christ uses to bring about this cleansing is the washing of the water, or baptism. Christ cleansed the church by means of the washing of the water with the word.

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PHRASE "WITH THE WORD"

The Greek preposition which is translated "with" in the NKJV is the Greek word en which means "in." So the literal translation would be "in the word." This prepositional phrase gives a description of the washing of the water under consideration which distinguishes it from all other washings with water. Hodge stated:

"The idea is that this washing with water is connected with the word. It is not an ordinary ablution, but one connected with the word of God." (Hodge, Op. Cit.,326).

It is, in fact, this connection of the washing of the water with the word that makes it effective. The power that cleanses is not in the water, it is in the word that commanded the water. Notice this comparison: Naaman (2 Kings 5:1ff) was not cleansed by water alone, but by water connected with the word of God preached by the prophet. The power was in the word which commanded the water. A leper doesn't need to try dipping in the Jordan today and expect cleansing from his leprosy because there would be no word connected with the dipping. But the word commanded Naaman to dip. The word with its power connected the cleansing with the dipping. So, Naaman dipped and was cleansed.

The word which brought the worlds into existence from nothing (Hebrews 11:3) and which sustains all things (Hebrews 1:3) is powerful. And that word with its power has connected the cleansing from sin with the washing of the water. Its power is thus exercised in connection with the washing of the water, or baptism.

No one should expect cleansing from sin by means of any washing of water which does not have this connection with the word. Any washing of water which is unscriptural as to either its element, its action, its subject, its purpose, or in any other respect, is ineffective because it has no connection with the word -- it is not the washing of the water commanded by the Lord. One who seeks the cleansing of his sins by means of any washing of water other than the one taught in the word is depending upon a "water salvation," and water without the word "is the same as that with which the servant cooks" (Luther). He is like a leper who seeks cleansing today by washing in the Jordan even though he has no command from God to do so.

SUMMARY: BAPTISM AND GRACE

Is "baptism for remission" in conflict with "salvation by grace?" Of course not. The two are in complete harmony. Ephesians 5:26 removes any notion of such a conflict. The teaching of this verse may be summarized by considering three questions:

  1. Who is said to cleanse the church? Answer: Jesus Christ. The cleansing that takes place in baptism is not, then, something that man does; it is not a cleansing which man accomplishes by his own effort or works. Christ is the one active in baptism. HE cleanses the sinner with His blood.
     

  2. What is the means of the cleansing? Answer: The washing of the water with the word. Jesus Christ cleanses the sinner. But baptism is the means Christ uses to bring about this cleansing. Christ cleanses the church by means of the washing of the water with the word.
     

  3. What part does man have in the cleansing? Answer: He simply submits to it -- and lets Christ perform this work upon him!

The only mystery left to be solved is how any one who studies the New Testament could ever arrive at the idea of a conflict between baptism and grace in the first place.


BAPTISM AND WORKS

TITUS 3:5

Salvation is "not of works." This is what Paul teaches in several passages (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 11:6; Galatians 2:16; 2 Timothy 1:9) . These passages have often been used by those who would deny baptism its rightful place in God's plan of salvation. The argument goes something like this:

This false conclusion is the result of premises which involve a basic misunderstanding of the two subjects of baptism and works. First, the nature of baptism and its place in God's plan of salvation. Second, the nature of the works mentioned in such "not of works" passages.

The fallacy involved in this argument will quickly be understood if a parallel argument based on Galatians 5:19-21 is made. In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul speaks of "the works of the flesh" and concludes that those "who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." A careless student might argue:

The mistake in this parallel argument is obvious. It should also be obvious that the argument on baptism and works which use the "not of works" passages in the manner described above contains exactly the same mistake. The error of the parallel argument based on Galatians 5 is the failure to recognize that the "works" of the passage are of a special kind. Baptism is not a work of the flesh. However, what many have not realized is that baptism is not in the category of works that those passages which teach that salvation is "not of works" refers to.

A careful study of Paul's statement in Titus 3:5 in which he places the "works" on one hand and baptism on the other, and thus distinguishes one from the other is needed. This distinction being established by Paul, it will follow that any appeal to passages in which salvation is said to be "not of works" for the purpose of denying baptism a place in the plan of salvation is not legitimate. Such passages are no more relevant to the issue than Galatians 5:19-21.

Let us read Titus 3:4-7:

"But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life."

MEANING OF "THE WASHING OF REGENERATION"

In the past the most reliable commentators have explained this expression as a reference to baptism. Some of more recent date have given the expression some sort of figurative application. But these figurative explanations are just a way to try to avoid the strength of a plain statement. If the New Testament is allowed to be its own best interpreter no other conclusion will be possible than that Paul here refers to baptism in water. The evidence which makes that conclusion absolutely necessary is the following:

1. The only other occurrence in the New Testament of the Greek noun translated washing (loutron) is in the verse just considered Ephesians 5:26. Paul is speaking of the same thing here as there. The "washing of regeneration," therefore, is the "the washing of the water." One writer stated: "From Ephesians 5:26 it is clear that it can mean nothing else than baptism." (Joh. Ed. Huther, Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, 315).

2. Acts 22:16 connects the washing away of sins with baptism.

3. Hebrews 10:22 speaks of the Christian's body as "washed with pure water."

4. The word translated "regeneration" (paliggenesia) means "rebirth" or "new birth" (Grimm, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 474), and this again connects the washing with baptism, for, as the discussion of John 3:5 has shown, the new birth involves water -- and that is a reference to baptism in water.

5. Romans 6:4 shows that "newness of life" follows the burial of baptism.

One who will let the Bible explain itself cannot doubt that the washing of regeneration in Titus 3:5 is a reference to baptism in water.

BAPTISM, A MEANS OR INSTRUMENT OF SALVATION

God "saved us through the washing of regeneration..." says Paul. The Greek word translated "through" is dia which is used "of the Means or Instrument by which anything is effected." It means "by means of" (Grimm, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 133). According to Paul, baptism is the means or instrument by which salvation is effected. Paul does not say that baptism is the savior. God is the "Savior" -- "He saved us..." But what Paul does say is that baptism is the means or instrument through which God saved us. God "saved us through (by means of) the washing of regeneration (baptism). This is what 1 Peter 3:21 teaches also. Of course other passages have already established that fact. But this passage adds a new element.

BAPTISM AND WORKS

Look at Paul's statement:

1. God did not save us by works (done) in righteousness which we did ourselves.

2. God did save us by means of the washing of regeneration.

Thus, the works and the washing are distinguished. They are not of the same class. The works are in one class; the washing in another. The works are excluded from the plan of salvation; the washing is included in the plan of salvation as a means or instrument of salvation. God saved us, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but through the washing of regeneration (baptism) 

The whole matter can be summed up like this:

1. God saved us. God is the Savior.

2. In saving us, God did not use works done in righteousness which we did ourselves as His means or instrument of salvation.

3. In saving us, God did use the washing of regeneration (baptism) as His means or instrument of salvation.

4. The works of righteousness and the washing of regeneration (baptism) are two different things. The washing is not in the same category as the works.

5. Therefore, the passages which exclude such works from the plan of salvation have no bearing on the completely different question as to whether baptism is a part of the plan of salvation.

 When people turn to the "not of works" passages in an effort to deny that baptism has a place in the plan of salvation they confuse two things that are entirely different. They remove baptism from the category to which it belongs and place it in an entirely different category. The difference between "Baptism According to Men" and "Baptism According to God" can be shown like this:

BAPTISM ACCORDING TO MAN

BAPTISM ACCORDING TO GOD

Not by works of righteousness which we have done

Not by works of righteousness which we have done

(Not through baptism)

(Through baptism)

But through "faith only"; "grace only"; "the sinners prayer" etc...

But through the washing of regeneration (baptism)

We MUST leave baptism where God put it! The passages that teach that salvation is not of works are irrelevant to the question of whether baptism is a condition of salvation. Heaping up such passages will not rule baptism out of the plan of salvation because baptism is not in the same category as the works mentioned in such passages. Therefore, the passages have no bearing on the discussion.

One more thing. This salvation is not contrary to the mercy of God, as some men say such salvation must be. Paul says it is "according to his mercy" -- not contrary to it!


BAPTISM AND THE BLOOD OF CHRIST

1 PETER 3:21
 

We now turn our attention to the relationship between baptism and the blood of Christ. 1 Peter 3:21 is one of the passages which deals with this subject. At first it may not be apparent that it does but when one compares Hebrews 9:13-14 with 1 Peter 2:21 we can effectively eliminate any consideration of a conflict between the blood of Christ and baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Peter speaks of the time " . . . when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us; baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ..." 

"Saved Through Water"

Peter says that Noah and his family "were saved through water." The word "through" comes from the Greek preposition dia, the one we looked at in Titus 3:5. It is used "of the Means or Instrument by which anything is effected" (Grimm, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 133). Water, then, was the means or instrument through which the salvation of Noah and his family was effected or accomplished.

The question of how water served as the means of salvation in Noah's day can only be determined by looking at Genesis 7:13-24. "And the waters increased, and lifted up the ark, and it was lifted up above the earth." Thus the water saved Noah and his family by lifting up the ark above the earth. The water was at once the means of the destruction of the wicked and the means of Noah's salvation.

"There Is Also An Antitype"

The antecedent of "There is also an antitype" would be the water that lifted up the ark and provided salvation for Noah and his family. The word "antitype" means that the water in Noah's day corresponded to or was a type of the water which now saves you. The word "antitype" (or, as it is translated in other versions, "likeness," "resemblance," "like figure," "corresponds" etc...) simply shows that our salvation is like Noah's salvation. Noah's salvation was accomplished "through water." Our salvation is accomplished "through water." Noah's salvation was accomplished through the water of the flood. Our salvation is accomplished through the water of baptism. Some people have tried to find in this word the idea that baptism only saves us in some figurative sense. They are wrong about the significance of the word.

Albert Barnes analyzed this resemblance between Noah's salvation and the salvation of the sinner from sin like this:

  • "There is salvation in both cases. Noah was saved from death; the sinner is saved from sin and condemnation.

  • Water is used in both cases.

  • The water is in each case a means or instrument of the salvation."

Peter does not say that water saves the sinner today in the same way that it saved Noah, but only that water is the means of salvation in both cases. The resemblance extends no further than that."

"Which Now Saves You"

Water, says Peter, "now saves you." He then explains the water which now saves the sinner -- it is the water of baptism.

Now you may want to remove this passage from the scriptures, but it is clearly there for all to see. You may not believe it, but that doesn't do away with what Peter said. The word of God clearly says that "BAPTISM NOW SAVES YOU!" You may hate what the passage says. You may ignore it. You may cut it out of your Bible. You may deny it. BUT IT REMAINS THE TRUTH! BAPTISM SAVES!

Of course, Peter does not intend for us to understand that baptism in water is the savior or the originating cause of salvation. I don't know anyone who believes that, even though many people accuse those of us who take the view set forth in this study as believing it. The context tells us what Peter means. Peter said that Noah was saved through (the means or instrument by which something is effected or accomplished) water. Sinners are saved through (the means or instrument by which something is effected or accomplished) baptism. Baptism is not the savior. It is the means or the instrument through which the Savior (Christ) saves us!

The Place of Baptism in the Plan of Salvation

This passage clearly teaches that baptism has a place in God's plan of salvation. A vital place. It is the means or instrument through which God accomplishes salvation. But Peter goes beyond this and defines the place of baptism more particularly. He has stated that baptism saves us. Now he explains the exact sense in which baptism is the means of salvation. It is (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ..."  The Greek noun which the NKJV renders "answer" and the ASV "interrogation" is eperotema. The meaning given by the lexicons (Greek dictionaries) is "request, appeal," and they translate the whole clause, "an appeal to God for a clear conscience." This Greek noun does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament, so we cannot find the meaning by comparing it with other passages. However, the noun has two verbs related to it. The simple verb erotao occurs about 58 times in the New Testament with translations in our versions as "to beseech, to ask, to pray, etc. The compound verb eperotao occurs about 59 times and is usually rendered "to ask."  So, even though no parallel New Testament uses of the noun are available for study and comparison, the uses of its kindred verbs lead to its meaning. Since the verbs mean "to beseech, to ask, to pray, etc..., the noun must mean "an appeal" or "a request. And when you read most of the English translations we have available to us today, that idea is there.

I am convinced that the best rendering of the phrase therefore, is "an appeal to God for a clean conscience." Thus, the concept set forth in this passage is that in baptism a person is appealing to God, making request of God for a clean conscience.

"A Good Conscience"

The book of Hebrews gives light on the expression "A good conscience." It speaks of  "an evil conscience" (Hebrews 10:22). The evil conscience exists when the guilt of sin is present -- the "consciousness of sins" (Hebrews 10:2). But a person can have his conscience cleansed (Hebrews 9:14). The clean conscience, then, exists when its owner has no consciousness of sin (Hebrews 10:2), either because he is not guilty of sin, or because the conscience has been cleansed of sin. The latter is the case under consideration both in Hebrews and 1 Peter 3. The "good conscience" is the "clean conscience" one receives after he has been washed in the blood of Christ.

THE BLOOD OF CHRIST AND A CLEAN CONSCIENCE

The book of Hebrews teaches that the conscience is cleansed of sin by the blood of Christ. In one of the most remarkable passages on the subject and one that is parallel to 1 Peter 3:21,  the Hebrew writer defines the relationship between baptism and the blood of Christ. The passage is Hebrews 9:13-14;

"For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"

The reference to the "ashes of a heifer" takes one to Numbers 19 for the background of verse 13. That chapter deals with the cleansing of a person who had become unclean by coming in contact with a dead body. Anyone who came in contact with a dead body was to be regarded as unclean. But touching the dead body was not a sinful act. When Joseph of Arimathaea buried Jesus he became unclean according to the law of Moses, but that did not make him a sinner. Only a bodily uncleanness -- an uncleanness of the flesh -- was involved.

A red heifer was to be killed, burned, and its ashes mixed with water. This "water for impurity" was to be applied to a person who had become unclean due to contact with a dead body. He would then be clean again. The uncleanness was an uncleanness of the flesh; the cleansing was a cleaning of the flesh.

The inspired Hebrew writer asks, "...how much more shall the blood of Christ ... cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God." The uncleanness of the sinner does not come from touching a dead body; he has touched dead works -- i.e. sin. And his defilement is not just "in the flesh"; he is guilty of sin and it is his conscience which is defiled. The blood of animals and the ashes of a heifer sanctified unto the cleanness of the flesh. The blood of Christ cleanses the conscience from sin.

BAPTISM AND THE BLOOD OF CHRIST

Now look at 1 Peter 3:21 again. Some hold that baptism is merely a "ceremonial" matter; that the salvation accomplished by means of baptism is merely an outward, bodily, cleansing comparable to certain Old Testament rituals which just dealt with the flesh. That is exactly what Peter says IS NOT SO! "Baptism saves us", says Peter; and then he explains the nature of this salvation, or how baptism saves us. "It is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh" -- or sanctification "unto the cleanness of the flesh" in the words of the Hebrew writer. "It is an appeal to God for a clean conscience." Baptism deals with the very same thing that the blood of Christ deals with -- i.e., the conscience and the guilt of sin.

Hebrews 9:14 teaches that the conscience is cleansed from sin by the blood of Christ. 1 Peter 3:21 teaches that baptism saves as being an appeal to God for a clean conscience -- i.e., a conscience cleansed from sin by means of the blood of Christ. Baptism is the way God has appointed for the believer to make his appeal to God for the cleansing of his conscience by the blood of Christ! The Bible concept of baptism is that a person is, in the act of baptism, making an appeal to God -- requesting of God, beseeching God, begging God -- for the cleansing of his conscience from the guilt of sin by means of the blood of Christ. How dare one call this "water salvation!"

For those who understand the place assigned to baptism in God's plan of salvation a conflict between baptism as a condition of pardon and the cleansing of the blood of Christ is inconceivable. Baptism is the means, the instrument, the way God has appointed by which a person is to seek the cleansing of his conscience by the blood of Christ. That is the place of baptism in God's plan of salvation. The person who submits to baptism according to the scriptures is the person who is relying on the blood of Christ for salvation. The person who rejects baptism's place in the plan of salvation rejects the blood of Jesus Christ.


CLOSING STATEMENT

We have attempted to set forth the Bible's teaching about the place of baptism in God's plan of salvation. In support of that we have presented at least 10 major passages for your consideration. We invite you to examine the evidence. We invite you to ask questions. We invite you to refute the arguments made if you can. And we invite you to accept the truth herein presented and obey it.

Baptism can only be rightly understood when it is examined in light of what the Bible teaches about faith, grace, the blood of Christ and works. Baptism is a vital part of God's plan of salvation. Far from being inconsistent with the grace of God, faith, the blood of Christ, and works, when one examines the evidence with an open mind he will be able to see that there is no conflict whatsoever. Baptism is an essential part of the divine plan, interwoven into every other essential of that plan. To leave it out is to make the whole powerless.

No one can reject baptism and retain faith -- or receive the benefits of God's grace or Christ's blood. Baptism is God's way for man to seek the cleansing of his conscience from sin by the blood of Christ. The person who treats baptism with contempt really cares nothing for the blood of Christ.

My friend, the message of salvation through the crucified Messiah was foolishness to the Greeks, but the power and wisdom of God to those who are called (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). Baptism is something that would never have appeared in the plan of salvation had it been left up to human wisdom. It is rejected by many who see with physical eyes only. But the true believer sees in it the wisdom and goodness of the infinite God whom he trusts even when he may not understand. (See also the following studies: "God's Chain of Salvation"; "Examples of Conversion"; "The New Birth: It's Necessity and Composition"; "Is Baptism a 'Gospel' Obligation?"; "A Dispute About the Purpose of Baptism""Was Cornelius Saved Before He Was Baptized?").


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