Answering Arguments Against Baptism

by Dan Gatlin

Brethren have long pointed out that “preaching Jesus” means preaching baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 8:35-36). Paul warned the Corinthians that when “we preach Christ crucified” some would stumble and others would consider it foolishness (I Corinthians 1:22-23). While many in the denominational world agree that belief (John 8:24), repentance (Acts 17:30-31), and confession (Romans10:9) are necessary for the forgiveness of sins, they still stumble and consider it foolishness when baptism is preached.

Much time, energy, and imagination have gone into making the Bible not say what it clearly does. Men have twisted scripture and sound reasoning to defend human tradition. We will consider some common arguments made against baptism, and how we might respond to them. These are in no particular order.

“Baptism is a work, and we’re not saved by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).”

There are many ways to respond to this. First, consider the context of Ephesians 2. Most will stop reading at verse 9, but consider what verse 10 says: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” To the sectarian mind, this poses a contradiction. Verse 9 says that salvation is “not of works,” while verse 10 says that we were “created . . . for good works.” Obviously, there are two different kinds of works under discussion. Verse 9 is referring to meritorious works while verse 10 has in mind the works of God. All “works” are not the same.

Second, most believe that salvation is by faith only. But the only place where the phrase “faith only” is found in James 2:24: “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” Does James contradict Paul? No, each is dealing with an opposite extreme. The fact is that both teach the same thing from different views.

Third, the view that we’re saved by faith and not by works is contradicted by Jesus in John 6:28-29: “Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’” Logically, if we are not saved by works, then we cannot be saved by faith, for Jesus says that faith (belief) is a work.

“If what you are saying about baptism is true, then my dear, departed grandmother is lost.”

This is actually not an argument since it does not deal with any points of Scripture. A good response might be to ask a series of questions.

  1. “Was your grandmother an honest, sincere person?” (Hint: everybody answers “yes.”)
  2. “If she understood what you now understand, would she have obeyed?”
  3. “What do you think she would want you to do (Luke 16:28)?”
  4. “Will your rejection of the Scriptures change what is true and save her?”

“The Bible says that we’re saved by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13; Hebrews 9:13-14; I Peter 1:18-19), not by water”

This is a false dichotomy. The assumptions are that we are saved by one or the other, but not by both. Calvinism teaches that salvation is solely a work of God, and that man has no part. That presupposition is reflected in this argument. In fact, the blood of Christ is what God has provided, but God expects us to choose salvation and meet His righteous conditions. “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” (I Peter 3:21). We are saved by the blood of Christ, but access to His blood is through obedience to the gospel.

“Mark 16:16 doesn’t say, ‘but he who does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned.’ Therefore, belief is the only thing necessary for salvation.”

First, there is a logical progression to the order given by Jesus. One will not (and cannot) be baptized if is there is no belief. “Baptism” without belief is simply dipping in water and is of no religious significance (Romans 10:10; I Peter 3:21).

Second, the fallacy of this argument can be easily shown with an illustration like this: “He who boards the plane and takes the flight will be in Phoenix, but he who does not board the plane will be left behind.” Does it need to be said, “and does not take the flight” for the message to be clear? If one does not board the plane, then one cannot take the flight. Likewise, if one does not believe, then one cannot be scripturally baptized. Further, if we follow our objector’s reasoning to its logical conclusion, then the moment we have boarded the plane we are in Phoenix (whether we’ve taken the flight or not).

Third, we must focus on what Jesus is saying. Is He saying, “He who believes and is saved will be baptized,” or “He who is baptized and saved will believe,” or “He who believes and is baptized will be saved”? Let’s let the text speak for itself.

“Paul said that Christ didn’t send him to baptize (I Corinthians 1:17), therefore, baptism is not essential to salvation.”

The key to properly understanding I Corinthians 1:17 is to recognize that this is a “not . . . but” passage. In this kind of passage, the “not” part of the verse is de-emphasized in order to emphasize the “but” portion. However, we shouldn’t necessarily come to the conclusion that the “not” statement is a prohibition. Consider John 6:27, which has the same “not . . . but” construction: “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life. . .” Jesus is not telling His disciples not to work, as this would contradict passages such as Ephesians 4:28; I Thessalonians 4:11; II Thessalonians 3:10; etc. He is emphasizing “the food which endures to everlasting life” as being far more important than “the food which perishes.” The same thing is found in Matthew 10:20 when Jesus gave instructions to His disciples as they preached to Israel: “for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” The disciples did do the physical speaking, but they were simply the instrument of the Spirit who was speaking through them. The Spirit is emphasized as the source of their words. When Paul says that “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel,” he is neither prohibiting nor undervaluing the importance of baptism. He is simply pointing out that his primary duty was to preach. Those who were converted and baptized were part of the “increase” given by God (I Corinthians 3:7).

“The thief on the cross wasn’t baptized, and he was saved.”

Baptism for the remission of sins did not begin until the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:37-38), so the thief (and Jesus) lived under the law of Moses. Paul is very clear on when the law of Moses came to an end, “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). Since baptism was not a requirement for salvation under Moses, it was not necessary for the thief.

“Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace.”

This is another way of saying we should be baptized because our sins are already forgiven. But the Bible nowhere teaches salvation before baptism.

"The 'for' in Acts 2:38 means 'because of'"

Many have attempted to twist Acts 2:38 (“Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. . .”) by saying that “for” (eis, in Greek) means “because of” rather than “in order to.” While a study of the original language is very profitable in this instance, most Christians are not prepared to argue from Greek. A better response might be to note that Matthew 26:28 has the same grammatical construction as Acts 2:38. Jesus said, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). If eis means “because of” in Acts, then it also means “because of” in Matthew. And, if that’s the case, Jesus is saying that His blood would be shed because man’s sins have already been forgiven (i.e. the blood of Christ is not necessary for forgiveness). Of course, those who make this argument are not willing to follow it to its logical conclusion.

That baptism is the point at which salvation comes is made clear in many passages.

  • And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
  • There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism . . . ” (I Peter 3:21).
  • He who believes and is baptized will be saved . . . ” (Mark 16:16).

“New Testament baptism (Acts 2:38) and the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5) are the same.”

While there are many different baptisms mentioned in the New Testament, there is only one (Ephesians 4:5) that is required today, and it is not the baptism of the Holy Spirit. First, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a promise, not a command. Notice the words of Jesus: “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The parallel to this is found in Acts 1:4-5, “And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” One obeys a command, not a promise.

Second, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is recorded only twice, in Acts 2 and 10. When Peter returned to Jerusalem, he recounted the conversion of Cornelius to the rest of the church. In Acts 11:15, he said, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.” Many would like to change the phrase “at the beginning” to “from the beginning.” That small change would indicate that the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurred continually throughout the entire period. But, alas, the text says what it says.

At the end, when all of man’s arguments are put forth the New Testament still teaches that we must be baptized to be saved. And, many still stumble at the preaching of Jesus.

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