Feedback archive Feedback 2009

Is baptism necessary for salvation? Is death such a bad thing?

One aspect of our popular weekend feedback article, ‘Cannibalism complaint against CMI’ was the matter of baptism being required for salvation. We don’t like to spend a lot of time on subjects not directly related to creation/evolution issues. However, salvation by grace through faith alone is a crucial and non-negotiable part of our Statement of Faith. See also our key page Good News.

So when Roger D. responded to this matter challenging our comments on baptism being a ‘work’, Jonathan Sarfati provided the following further commentary. After this, we post a few other comments about the original article. After that, we respond to another reader who questions whether death is so bad.

Note that if you have not read the original ‘Cannibalism’ feedback, it made reference to Mark 16:16, where Jesus says: ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’ The article said:

How come that for centuries, Baptists, Presbyterians, etc. have clearly taught that baptism, while important, is not essential to salvation? The answer is not that difficult, but it requires carefully considering the passage (and the related ones)—what it says and what it does not say. My colleague Dr Jonathan Sarfati wrote a powerful article called ‘Loving God with all your mind: logic and creation.’ The article touches upon this particular error, as an example of the logical fallacy formally known as ‘denying the antecedent’. The big words are not essential to the issue, but note when he says that this fallacy is … ‘ … committed by some groups that teach the error of baptismal regeneration by citing the following statement of Christ according to the Majority Text of Mark 16:16:

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

The first part of the verse is an implication: if a person believes and is baptized then he will be saved. It is invalid to argue from this that anyone who is not baptized will not be saved. The second part is an explicit statement that unbelief results in condemnation.

To demonstrate the fallacy, examine the following statement which is in the same logical form: ‘Whatever has feathers and flies is a bird, but whatever does not have feathers is not a bird.’ This statement does not teach that there are no flightless birds.’

Despite this, Roger D. wrote:

It is interesting that you comment about Mark 16:16 and the issue of Baptism as though it were not essential!
A couple of thoughts!
How can Baptism be a work if it is something that you cannot do for yourself? Isn’t it just an act of submission and obedience?
Is it any more a ‘work’ than prayer which requires you to exercise your tongue to talk to God or repentance which may require you do things differently?
What do you think Paul would have said 5 minutes after Ananias gave him the instructions in Acts 22:16 to get up be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name?
Is it possible that Paul would have changed the formula that Jesus gave Ananias to only ‘get up and wash your sins away calling on his name’ What about those who asked Peter and the other apostles Acts 2:38 “Brothers what shall we do? Peter replied Repent and be baptized everyone of you (not some of you but everyone of you), in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. If they had decided to only take on part of the message, e.g. to only repent, would that have been obedient? What if you only believed but didn’t repent? Isn’t it more correct to teach that we need to include all the things that the scripture asks us to do for salvation. Belief, Faith, Repentance, Confession & Baptism. Why risk taking any of these elements out of what we have been asked to do?

I appreciate all the work that your ministry is doing to establish Creation. It has given me much faith and courage to discuss our wonderful Lord and Saviour Jesus

Kind Regards

Roger D

There is, respectfully, nothing new here in these pro-baptismal-regenerationist arguments. In common with Protestant orthodoxy down through the ages, we maintain that baptism is what saved people do, not what people do to be saved.

Paul tells us that we are saved by believing the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1–4), but previously told his hearers, “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17). Indeed, just before that, Paul said he couldn’t even remember baptizing anyone else but Stephanas and his household; surely a dereliction if baptism were essential for salvation. Ergo, baptism can’t be part of the Gospel by which we are saved. Furthermore, Peter didn’t mention baptism in his great sermon from Solomon’s portico (Acts 3:12–26), and neither did Paul in his speech on the Areopagus (Acts 17:18 ff.)

Also, there is no biblical record of the apostles’ being baptized, yet Jesus pronounced them clean of their sins (John 15:3—note that they were explicitly cleansed by the Word of God, not baptism). Other examples in the gospels of forgiveness of sin are the penitent woman (Luke 7:37–50), the paralytic man (Matthew 9:2), the publican (Luke 18:13–14), and the repentant malefactor on the cross (Luke 23:40–43) also experienced forgiveness of sins apart from baptism. Note also John 3:16 and John 5:24 where Jesus states that people have already crossed the boundary from death into life upon belief, not upon baptism.

The book of Acts also provides an example of people who were saved before being baptized, the first Gentile family who became Christians. In Acts 10:44-48, Cornelius and those with him were converted through Peter’s message. That they were saved before being baptized is evident from their reception of the Holy Spirit (v. 44) and the gifts of the Spirit (v. 46) before their baptism. And once again, it was this evidence that they were already saved that led Peter to baptize them (cf. v. 47).

That baptism is the act of a saved person is shown even in the Acts 2:38 passage. Peter appears to link forgiveness of sins to baptism. But there are at least two plausible interpretations of this verse that do not connect forgiveness of sin with baptism. “For” is the Greek word εἰς (eis), and both the English and Greek have several meanings, depending on the context. Certainly it sometimes means “in order to” or “to achieve”, “to obtain” etc., which is the meaning you ascribe to the “for” in this passage, e.g. a diver came up for air, meaning to obtain air. But this is not the only meaning. E.g. if I take an aspirin “for” my headache, it certainly doesn’t mean that I’m taking it to “obtain” a headache. Rather, the “for” here means “because of”.

Similarly, a poster saying “Jesse James wanted for robbery”, would be unlikely to mean Jesse is wanted so he can commit a robbery; rather, it means he is wanted because he has committed a robbery. So too in this passage, the word “for” signifies an action in the past—that we are baptized because we identify with the salvation Christ has already achieved for us. Otherwise, it would violate the entire tenor of the NT teaching on salvation by grace through faith and not by works (e.g. Romans 4, Galatians 3, Ephesians 2:8–9, and about 200 other times where faith/belief is the only condition listed for salvation).

It is also possible to take the clause “and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” as parenthetical. Support for that interpretation comes from the fact that “repent” and “your” are plural, while “be baptized” is singular, thus setting it off from the rest of the sentence. If that interpretation is correct, the verse would read “Repent (and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ) for the forgiveness of your sins.” Forgiveness is thus connected with repentance, not baptism, in keeping with the consistent teaching of the New Testament (cf. Luke 24:47; John 3:18; Acts 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18; Ephesians 5:26).

Similarly with Acts 22:16, the phrase “wash away your sins” is best connected with “calling on His name”. A connection with “be baptized” would leave the Greek participle ἐπικαλεσάμενος (epikalesamenos = calling) “dangling” without an antecedent. Thus Paul’s sins were washed away by calling on the name of the Lord (cf. Romans 10:9–13; see below), rather than by baptism.

Baptismal regenerationists try to work around the salvation by works charge by claiming that baptism isn’t really a work but an “act of obedience”. But all works are “acts of obedience”. And obedience is something saved people do; it is the fruit of salvation, not the root.

Another (J.G.) who commented on the article argued:

Belief alone is not going to get it. I believe scripture says that even Satan believes.

We agree! Belief alone is not enough, unless the content of belief is right. In 1 Corinthians 15:1–4, Paul explained this content, and Romans 10:9–13 makes it clear that Jesus as JHWH is part of this content too (see Defending vital doctrines and the deity of Christ). But the James 2:19 passage that J.G. alludes to states that the demons believe in one God—they don’t believe that Jesus died for their sins, so they lack the proper content for saving faith.

Yours sincerely in ‘our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13)

Jonathan Sarfati


Our intention in responding to the initial ‘cannibalism’ complaint, which also criticised us for not teaching baptismal regeneration, was not to enter areas outside of our Statement of Faith, but to affirm our position (C5) in that Statement of Faith that salvation is by grace through faith alone. We did not intend to come across as weighing in on any of the other controversies associated with baptism (e.g. mode and subject), as we are a non-denominational ministry. We therefore publish a comment from Lutheran minister Noel S from Canada, as follows:

Dear friends at CMI,

Let me interject a Lutheran understanding of baptism as a middle ground. Baptism is not a work we do to earn salvation, it is a gift we receive from God. Baptism is visible Gospel by which we receive divine adoption and the inheritance of sons (Gal 3:2627). Of course, the promises of baptism are apprehended by faith, but that does not mean that Gods promises are not truly offered in baptism. Yes a person can be saved solely by believing the promises of the bare Word (w/o baptism), but baptism makes those promises very personal: I baptize YOU in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I have a great and wonderful comfort in baptism, it is something I can hang on to when Im tempted to doubt Gods grace and favour & the Gospel IS for ME!

We are confident that Rev. Noel would affirm with us Ephesians 2:8–9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith; and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one can boast.

Other comments (about the original article triggering the letter above)

B.T., Australia:

A most loving and kind response. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all Christians could discuss their different points of view so graciously? There would be a real chance that we could learn from one another rather than become deeper set in our differences. Well done Carl.

J.F., Australia:

A good enquiry and a great response. Your answer expresses exactly what I think the Bible is telling us and what Jesus taught.
Keep up the good work.

Comments on this article

Dr Raymond Jones, Australia:

This is the clearest and most scriptural presentation of the baptism/salvation issue that I have read. Thank you so much.
Salvation is indeed by God’s grace alone.

Kevin Moritz, USA:

A very good article on baptism. It confirmed what I already believed but gives me a stronger and more complete reason for that belief than I had before. Carl Wieland’s points on death [below] are well taken also. I might add that of course death can be seen as ‘good’ in the sense that it’s a transition to something greater (for a Christian), but that’s because Christ has taken away the ‘sting’ of what is originally and innately a bad thing.

Is death such a bad thing?

Michael M wrote:

While reading your articles, I received the impression that your website regards death as a negative thing.

While I agree that dying is something to be avoided because of the pain that is usually involved, wouldn’t the reward of entering heaven be an acceptable alternative to no longer being able to participate in life?

After all, I was informed in my Sunday School classes that heaven is being in God’s presence, and that is the greatest reward.


Dr Carl Wieland responds:

Dear Michael

I can understand where you’re coming from—at least at a “first glance” analysis. However, the matter is somewhat deeper than that, and the Bible itself speaks otherwise, as will make sense with some reflection on the below three points, I think.

  • Death was brought in as part of a curse (Genesis 3), “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23).
  • Death is called “the last enemy” that will be “destroyed” (1 Cor. 15:26).
  • In the future restoration, i.e. the New Heavens and New Earth, Rev. 21:4 tells us that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev. 22:3 links this with the removal of the Curse.

I.e. the biblical ‘big picture’ is of the creation of a ‘very good’ world, in which there were no ‘bad things” such as suffering, death … This world was ruined by sin, which brought in death among other bad things, as a temporary intruder, an “enemy”. This world will be restored back to a “very good” state via the removal of those bad things (including death).

I don’t think the issue is so much the pain of dying (dying can be a totally painless thing, physically). It is the separation, the loss. Including when someone else dies. Note that Jesus Himself wept when Lazarus died (John 11:35), although He was about to resuscitate him.

Obviously to a believer in Jesus Christ, death loses its “sting” (1 Cor. 15:55). This is however not because death is a good thing, but because the believer can know that he/she will now enter a wonderful place. In fact, one of the very reasons that this place is so wonderful is precisely because “there will be no more death”, no more grieving, loss, etc.

Of course, even believers who have that comfort about death feel the loss of a loved one, and when that loved one does not know the Lord, they feel the horror of death even more acutely.

I trust you can see how the teaching of your Sunday School is not incompatible with the fact that death is hardly a good thing. John Calvin rightly said in his commentary on Genesis:

‘And therefore some understand what was before said. “Thou shalt die”, in a spiritual sense; thinking that, even if Adam had not sinned, his body must still have been separated from his soul. But since the declaration of Paul is clear, that “all die in Adam, as they shall rise again in Christ” (1 Cor. xv. 22), this wound was inflicted by sin. … Truly the first man would have passed to a better life, had he remained upright; but there would have been no separation of the soul from the body, no corruption, no kind of destruction, and, in short, no violent change.’

At the same time, when someone dies they are indeed “promoted to glory” (as the Salvation Army often puts it).

With kind regards

Carl W.

Published: 14 February 2009