Is baptism more than a symbol?



I have a question about a possible omission in a statement found on "What Saves a Person?" It's specifically about this statement:

"Be Baptized: God selected a simple method by which we demonstrate and declare our acceptance of His offer of salvation -- immersion in water. It is a physical act that symbolically represents what salvation is all about (Romans 6:3-7; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 10:47-48; Acts 22:16; I Peter 3:21)."

One of the main reasons I have been studying many of your pages is to better refute the popular idea that water baptism is merely a symbolic representation of real action, i.e. the remission of our sins by God, or that it's just a "public profession" of faith. I believe it is largely due to this belief that so many people postpone, minimize, or ignore the requirement to be baptized. While I agree with what is stated, I think that some wording should be added to make it clear that baptism is not just a symbol or a profession. The references are excellent, but I hope you'll add a few words to the summary so it will more fully agree with them.

Additionally, I didn't find any references to forgiveness anywhere else on the rest of the page. Other than this possible omission, I found the page overall to be very well done.


Do you mean something like the statement found toward the bottom of the same page?

"'Baptism is just a symbol,' we’re sometimes told and it is true that baptism does represent many things to the person who has faith in God, just like the Lord’s Supper has symbolic meaning to the partakers (I Corinthians 10:16). But does the fact that it represents other things make it less essential to be done? Or, does it become important for the believer to participate in what is being symbolized?

It is God who commands baptism (Acts 2:38) and we must do the works of God (Ephesians 2:10). It is God who states that baptism washes away our sins (Acts 22:16) and saves us (I Peter 3:21). Such can be seen through what God says baptism represents."

Just because the Lord's Supper is a memorial of Jesus' death and the bread symbolizes his body and the fruit of the vine symbolizes his blood, it doesn't lead to the conclusion that partaking of the Lord's Supper is optional. Baptism symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-7). At the same time, it symbolizes the believer's death to his old life of sin and his resurrection to a new life. The fact that it has symbolic meaning doesn't lead to the conclusion that baptism is optional or that it can be put off.

The purpose of the page was to address the question "What saves a person?" The goal was to show that God doesn't connect just one act to salvation. Yes, there are many other things that could be discussed, but I prefer to keep the pages somewhat focused. There are other pages that discuss the debt of sin and our release from that debt (forgiveness) at the time of being baptized, such as How to Become a Christian, The Blood of Christ, or I’m so confused about baptism.

Just because something wasn't written the way you would write it, it doesn't mean that things were wrongly omitted. Good writing has to be focused and different writers will focus on different issues.


Hello Bro. Hamilton,

I appreciate your quick and most kind response. I actually did read the entire article and afterward went back over it in more detail.

I especially love the artwork and the message that goes with it, and I would appreciate your permission to use it, as it is a beautiful picture of the symbolism inherent in being baptized into Jesus Christ.

As I stated, I was writing to you specifically about the paragraph beginning with "Be Baptized...". I must confess that after reading it, I searched the entire page for just the word "forgiveness" (or "remission") and was, and still am, unable to find either. This was a mistake on my part, and hopefully, I'll learn to not be so word-specific in the future. I should have noticed that the words "washes away our sins" was indeed to be found near the end of the article, especially since I had just read the entire article, including the artwork, which when printed, amounts to at least three pages. I believe that since all of the wonderful articles on your church's website are intended to reach out to as many unbelievers, believers in error, and denominational members as possible, that the more clearly they are written, the better. I hope that if a Baptist or other "evangelical" were to read this article, they would read it in its entirety. As I read, and re-read, and re-read the paragraph in question, it seemed to me as if a Baptist had written it. I have been studying Baptist doctrine and visiting two Baptist churches over the last couple of months. I've actually been getting slightly angry, (the righteous type, by the Lord's grace!) the more and more I see that they simply don't seem to accept the authority of the Word when it seems unpopular or inconvenient. It's enough to drive one into the ministry, but that's another story.

I said I had a question about a "possible omission", not something "wrongly omitted". I'm sorry if you took it that way, but I really did mean "possible". Another mistake I made is telling you I had a question, and then I never ended up asking one, so for this, I also apologize. I'm very new at this sort of thing, but I think I've been learning quickly. Your assistance in this is sincerely appreciated.

I have a suggestion on a possible edit that could make this paragraph clear for those out there that may already be confused with false teachings or those who don't read the entire article:

"Be Baptized: God selected a simple method by which we demonstrate and declare our acceptance of His offer of salvation -- immersion in water for the washing away of our sins. It is a physical act that also symbolically represents what salvation is all about (Romans 6:3-7; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 10:47-48; Acts 22:16; I Peter 3:21)."

I want to especially thank you for two articles along these lines, which I have been studying for a couple of days with my wife. You mentioned the first one, i.e. "I'm so Confused About Baptism" and the other is "Aren't You Misinterpreting the Scriptures Unless You Teach Faith Alone?". In the first, I must admit, it took me a while to finally realize that almost 2/3 of the article was written by a Lutheran, who tries to be "the" objective arbiter. I profited much from your response, and am keeping a printed copy of it for future reference. In the second article, your response to the bashed Nazarene was masterful.

It reminded me of a different argument written by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, in which 7 easily refutable reasons are given as to why Peter supposedly didn't declare that baptism was necessary for salvation, in the Acts 2:38 "PROBLEM", as they sub-title it. ("When Critics Ask", by Norman L. Geisler and Thomas A. Howe, ©1992, SP Publications, Inc., 428-9) Near the end of this section on pg. 429, it is stated " seems best to understand Peter's statement like this: "Repent and be baptized with a view to the forgiveness of sins."...". (Do you happen to know if there's any translation besides Wuest's that translates it like that?) I thought it odd that later, in the section on I Corinthians 15:29, it refers back to the Acts 2:38 comments, that include the " seems best..." summary sentence, by now stating that "The Bible is emphatic that baptism does not save (see comments on Acts 2:38)." (ibid.,464) (Emphasis mine.)

Sorry if this has gotten too long, but as I said, I'm new at this, and am learning.

Thank you for your time, your assistance, and your patience,


All the material on La Vista's site is free to be reused and if you want to make modifications to it for your purpose, you are welcome to do so. That is what the notice at the bottom of every page is about.

I don't know of a translation of Acts 2:38 that reads "with a view to the forgiveness of sins," but it seems to me that their translation doesn't solve their "problem." It still says that forgiveness of sins is in the future; thus, after repentance and baptism. This would mean that faith (which also must come before baptism) does not grant immediate salvation. At best, they must claim that something else is required after baptism before salvation is granted, but I suppose they didn't state that that something is. Of course, I Peter 3:21 contradicts their claim: "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you -- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience -- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

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