Sunday, November 21, 2010

Refuting Baptismal Regeneration, Part 5 of 6

Acts 2:38 plays off of Mark 16:16. Mark 16:16 reads: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Verse 17: “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will…speak with new tongues.” Note that unbelief brings condemnation; failure to be baptized is not mentioned.

Follow this passage to a practical example in Acts chapter 10. Cornelius had just invited Peter to give him and his household the gospel. After Peter explains the gospel, and that those who believe are justified (verse 43) the Holy Spirit came upon them (verse 44; compare with Acts 2:38) and they spoke with new tongues (verse 46; compare with Mark 16:16-17). Bearing this in mind read verse 47, something Peter states after this household is saved, according to the testimony of Acts 2:38 and Mark 16:16-17: “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” To emphasize, there is a distinct difference between spiritual baptism and water baptism; they are not the same, nor does the latter initiate the former. Confusion on this point would lead to gross error.

John 3:5, especially taken in isolation, is an ambiguous verse to say the least. The context surrounding John 3:3-8 indicates that, whatever is meant by our Lord in this verse is necessary to enter the kingdom of God; this much both sides would agree with. For greater clarity to this passage we need only skip ahead to our Lord’s further discourse and read: “whoever believes in [Jesus] should not perish but have eternal life…that whoever believes in [Jesus] should not perish but have everlasting life…he who believes in [Jesus] is not condemned,” John 3:15-16, 18. So then, being “born of water and [even] the Spirit” (as the verse can be translated from the Greek), or being “born again,” (verses 3 and 6) are associated with receiving eternal life through faith in Christ. Titus 3:5 declares that “according to [God’s] mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” The same Greek word “loutron” is used in Titus 3:5 and Ephesians 5:26; which states that we receive the washing of water by the word (the gospel). This agrees with the saying Jesus spoke: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you,” John 15:3.

I am greatly afraid that the people who espouse the view of Baptismal Regeneration perform eisegesis upon Scripture: reading into it what they desire rather than taking out of it what God has spoken. The latter would be called exegesis. Recall when I mentioned the salvation passages in the New Testament? There are about 200 of them. How many supposedly support water baptism’s necessity? About 5 or so. That means for about every 48 verses that clearly states salvation is by faith alone there is 1 verse that seems to include water baptism as a condition. There are then, more than 1 in 48 odds of the writer “getting it right,” so to speak. Am I just practicing semantics now? No; what I’m saying is that if water baptism was essential to our salvation, it is irresponsible to the highest degree that it was not mentioned every time the way of salvation was given; Paul gives the clearest answer in Acts 16:31: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

The gospel is the simplicity of Christ (2nd Corinthians 11:3); but it is hardly simple if the whole story isn’t told to you every single time. In fact, according to 1st Corinthians 1:17-18; 15:1-4 Paul explains that water baptism is not a part of the gospel, and that he was not sent to baptize people, but preach the gospel. By the gospel we are saved, Romans 10:9-10; 17; James 1:21; 1st Corinthians 1:21. If Paul clearly states that water baptism is not a part of the gospel (which he does), then including baptism destroys the gospel. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, those who preach such legalism and adhere to it have fallen from grace into works, 5:1-4.

This is not what I consider rightly handling the word of truth. The apostle himself linked circumcision together with water baptism in Colossians 2:11-12. Verse 11 informs us that true regeneration, incorporation into Christ’s body, the church, is without hands. In other words, there is nothing we “do” to attain this new life. Baptism is again referred to in verse 12 as a symbol of the inward reality of genuine spiritual renewal. It is our faith in the working of God that grants this new life; baptism was the visible image of this new life that had been imparted to us. We were buried, as it were, under the water, and rose again from it to represent our newness of life. The progression is that Christ through the Spirit does the work of regeneration and renewal within us when we believe, cutting away the body of sin (the old man) within us; then we are baptized as a profession of our new life. Yet because we are commanded to be baptized it does not mean we will not receive eternal life otherwise. Again, look back to the Old Testament. The Jews would be “cut off” if they were not circumcised; but Paul argues that circumcision justified no one, despite the fact that it had been commanded by God Himself.

To advance the view of Baptismal Regeneration the proponents of it hammer the reader with Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, and John 3:5 especially, over and over again, as if repeating the verses cements their position. Anyone who questions might receive a terse response that such passages as Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38 are especially hard to misunderstand, being straightforward. I respectfully disagree. We read in Scripture that Jesus says, “My Father is greater than I,” John 14:28. Elsewhere we find: “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments,” Matthew 19:17. We might also include, from that same verse, “Why do you call Me good? No is good but one, that is, God.” Or, “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven,” Matthew 18:19.

Wrested out of context and isolated, these verses (and more like them) have been used by men to advance unbiblical ideas. Indeed, many verses of Scripture when they stand alone appear to be very “self-explanatory.” Yet if the Bible is taken in this hyper-literal sense, it would become a maze of contradictory doctrines from which there is no escape. Peter warns of such activity twice. “No prophecy is of any private interpretation (origin),” 2nd Peter 1:20. “…consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation –as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures,” 2nd Peter 3:15-16.

I submit the verses above to illustrate a point. Granted, Mark 16:16 sounds straight forward: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” But even in verses 16-17 faith is mentioned 3 times; baptism but once. Jesus says unbelief condemns; baptism is conspicuously absent from this statement. What we must do is accept the Bible’s testimony as a whole. I have already pointed out that there’s about 195 salvation passages that DO NOT mention baptism. Is this rightly dividing the word?

For Matthew 19:17, Jesus was clarifying to the rich young ruler his need of Him. Since Paul wrote that by the deeds of the law no man was justified (Romans 3) Jesus was trying to make the young man see the absurdity of trying to be justified by the law, therefore impressing his need to exercise faith and trust in Jesus for eternal life, Galatians 3:24.

The latter portion of Matthew 19:17 appears at first glance that Jesus is refuting any claim of deity. Yet we read: “[Jesus], being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant…” Philippians 2:6-7. Hebrews adds: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels…inasmuch then as the children have partaken in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same…” Hebrews 2:9, 14.Other Scriptures deny this superficial reading of Matthew, such as John 1:1; 8:58; Colossians 2:9, etc. and upon closer inspection, Jesus was not denying His deity, but asking a qualifying question: why do you approach Me and call Me good unless you believe I am God? Jesus was testing the young ruler to see why this man called Him good. Clearly, the young man considered himself good, seeing that he kept the commandments, and was looking for legal counsel from a famous Rabbi, not the Son of God.

In John 14:28 Jesus was not renouncing deity, but speaking as a Man, which is not surprising since He was incarnated as one, the second Man and last Adam, 1st Corinthians 15:45, 47. Speaking in view of their position, Jesus as a man was lower than the Father. This is quantitative, not qualitative, greatness. The Father did not limit Himself as the Son did, so in this regard (alone) He was greater than the Son.


  1. Thanks Ian, that was a great in depth Bible study on the subject of baptismal regeneration.

    I hope you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving Day :-)


    BTW, thank you for the kind comment you recently made on my blog.

  2. Like you, I have trouble understanding how anyone could hold that baptism is essential for salvation after comparing the other scriptures. I believe it is critical that we reconcile our understanding with all the scriptures, rather than interpreting it solely on what we think it says, as I Peter calls it, a private interpretation. Very thorough and clear teaching. Good job.


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