Saturday, January 24, 2015

Is Mark 16:16 a Strong Support for Baptismal Regeneration? NO!

One of the "Go To" verses that sects, cults and denominations that support baptismal regeneration is Mark 16:16. This posting is in follow up to my previous posting on this subject that arose from a conversation with a friend who embraces this teaching. I also want to thank those who have "chimed in" on my Facebook page to share their thoughts on this subject as well.  

Before we get into answering this question, though, I want to approach this from a proper hermeneutic. Biblical hermeneutics is the study or science of interpreting Scripture, and it will be this approach for this verse as well as the remaining posts on this series.  

Whenever we look at a single verse or a passage, we need to discern what it teaches through carefully considering the context of the passage, and the language that is used. We also need to understand the "analogy of Scripture" (sometimes called "the analogy of faith") or knowing what the Bible teaches elsewhere on the same subject.  

With baptism and the doctrine of salvation, the Bible is very clear that salvation is by grace (alone) though faith (alone) in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism.[1] We can also look at other salvation passages and see that baptism is not included.  Looking at the noted passages, it can be clearly seen that any interpretation which comes to a conclusion that baptism or any other act, is necessary for salvation is a faulty interpretation.

Looking Directly at Mark 16:16

Since I believe in a long version of Mark, I am going to assume that verse 16 is original to the gospel.  So the question before us is, does Mark 16:16 teach that baptism is required for salvation? The answer to this question is an emphatic, "NO!"

In order for those to make the case that this passage teaches that baptism is required for salvation, one must go BEYOND what the verse actually says. Let me quote it, and then let's look and see what it teaches.

Mark 16:16, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned."[2]

First off, let me say that this verse is consistent with the many other passages that show that only belief is necessary for salvation (e.g., John 3:18John 5:24John 12:44John 20:311 John 5:13).

Second, notice that Mark 16:16 is composed of two statements:
a. "He who has believed and has been baptized will be saved. . ."
b.  ". . . but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned."

This verse tells us something about believers who have been baptized. It tells us that they are saved/redeemed. The verse does not say anything about believers who have not been baptized. In order for this passage to say that baptism is necessary for salvation, a third statement would need to be in the passage, viz., "He who has believed and is not baptized shall be condemned" or "He how has not been baptized shall be condemned." But, looking at the passage we see none of these statements present in the verse.

Where is the Error?

The proponents for baptismal regeneration, interpreting this text commit a common but serious mistake. That mistake is the faulty assumption of assuming that "if a statement is true, all negations (or opposites) of that statement are also true."[3]

Let me illustrate it this way. Let's suppose the statement, "a horse with black spots is an animal" is a true statement; however, the negative, "if a horse does not have black spots, it is not an animal" is false. In like manner, "he who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved" is a true statement. However the statement "he who who has believed but has not been baptized shall not be saved" is a faulty assumption. This is exactly the assumption that is being made by those who are contending for baptismal regeneration.

Let me give you another example. "Whoever believes and lives in Fredericksburg shall be saved, but those who do not believe shall be condemned." This statement is biblically and strictly true. Those who live in "the Burg" and believe in Jesus shall be saved. However to say that that only those believers living in Fredericksburg are saved is not a logical statement and a fallacious assumption.  The statement above does not say a believer must live in Fredericksburg, in order to go to heaven.

In similar fashion, Mark 16:16 does not say that a believer must be baptized. The verse states a fact about baptized believers. That fact is that they have followed the Lord in His baptism as an public declaration of their love, worship and fellowship in His example. They are the saved ones, and they are making a public declaration of the impact of the gospel; the inward change of dying to sin, being buried with Christ and rising to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

But this verse says nothing about believers who have not been baptized. There may be believers who do not dwell in Fredericksburg, yet they are still saved or redeemed; and there may be believers who have not been baptized, yet they too are saved.

If we look at the second part of the verse we see one specific condition required for salvation: "but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned."  When Jesus was making this statement, He was giving the positive condition of belief and the negative condition of unbelief. Therefore it is conclusive that belief IS THE REQUIREMENT for salvation. More importantly, we can see this condition restated positively and negatively all throughout the New Testament (John 3:16; 3:18; John 5:24: John 8:24; a Acts 16:31 and Romans 10:9).

In Mark 16:16 Jesus is mentioning a condition related to salvation, not an act of salvation. But a related condition should not be confused with the requirement. For example, let me give you something that I can relate to these last couple of days, having a fever.

Having a fever is related to being ill with the flu, but a fever is not required for the illness to be present. Nowhere in the Bible doe we find a statement, such as "whoever has not been baptized shall be condemned." Therefore we cannot say that baptism is necessary for salvation based on this verse in Mark 16:16. We will also defend this using the other passages used by those who defend baptismal regeneration.

Let Me Put the Bow on This Package

Does Mark 16:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. I think we can conclude that the answer to this question is a firm one to the negative. No it does not!  It clearly establishes that belief is required for salvation but it does not prove nor disprove the idea of baptism being a requirement. 

Secondly looking to the full counsel of the Word of God we can see four very important things (I am sure there are more but here are the biggies):

1. The Bible is clear that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. Abraham believed God and it was that belief that made him righteous in the eyes of God. He was an Old Testament saint saved by faith. We are saved by faith as well.

2. If you look all throughout the Bible, in every dispensation, people have been saved without being baptized. Every believer in the Old Testament (Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon) was saved but not baptized.  The thief on the cross was saved but not baptized. Cornelius was saved before he was baptized (Acts 10:44-46).  

3. Baptism is a public declaration and testimony of our faith that we believe in Jesus Christ. The Scriptures tell us that we have eternal life the moment we believe (John 5:24), and belief always comes before being baptized. Baptism does not save us any more than walking an aisle or saying a prayer saves us. We are saved when we believe.

4. If baptism were required for salvation, then no one could be saved without another party being present. Someone must be there to baptize a person before he can be saved. This effectively limits who can be saved and when one can be saved. The consequences of this doctrine, when carried to a logical conclusion, are devastating. For example, a soldier who believes on the battlefield but is killed before he can be baptized would go to hell.  The person on their death bed, fully conscious and with the ability to repent of their sins and trusting in Christ, before they leave this life, would go to hell - all before they were baptized.

One Final Note For This Posting:  If you believe in baptismal regeneration, let me encourage you to study what I have shared in this posting.  You would do well to prayerfully reconsider whom or what you are placing your trust in for your eternal life.  

Is your faith in a physical work or is it in the finished work of Christ on the cross? Whom or what are you trusting for salvation? Is it the shadow (baptism) or the substance (Jesus Christ)? Our faith must rest in Christ alone. “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). 


[1] See Ephesians 2:8-10. 

[2] All Scripture quoted in this posting will be from the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version.

[3] This is what is sometimes called the "the fallacy of negative faulty inference." 

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