Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

Why water baptism is not necessary for salvation?

People not baptized are saved.
The thief

Lk 23:43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (NIV)

Since the thief was saved without even going through water baptism, baptism could not have been a prerequisite for salvation.

Objection

Jesus has the power to forgive sins (Matt 9:6). Therefore, He could choose to forgive the sins of the thief even though he had not been baptized. This is particularly true since there is no way for the thief to be baptized. Therefore in general cases, baptism is still necessary for the forgiveness of sins.

Response

In the gospels, Jesus went about forgiving people who acknowledged that they had sinned and wanted to repent. Jesus declared that their sins were already forgiven even though they had not yet been baptized. This would not be possible if baptism was necessary for these people to be forgiven of their sins.

(Mat 9:2) Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

(Luke 7:48) Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Therefore the forgiveness of sins of the thief without having to go through baptism was a general case and not an exception to the rule.

Objection

At that time, the command of baptism had not yet been given; that was given after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

(Mat 28:19-20) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, {20} and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Since the commandment to be baptized had not yet been given, baptism was not necessary for salvation. It became necessary after Jesus gave the following commandment after His resurrection.

Response

Even though, Jesus’ commandment to baptize disciples came after His death and resurrection, the necessity to observe water baptism was no less before the death and resurrection of Jesus.

John the Baptist was himself commanded to baptize.

(John 1:33) I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’

Jesus Himself was baptized and told John that it was necessary for Him to go through it. If even Jesus had to go through it, it must have been something all believers need to go through.

(Mat 3:13-15) Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. {14} But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” {15} Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

Jesus’ disciples also went about baptizing people.

(John 4:1-2) The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, {2} although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.

It is not the case that water baptism became more important only after Jesus’ resurrection. It was just as important before the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore it is not the case that baptism became more important and necessary for salvation only after Jesus’ resurrection.

Objection

The baptism that Jesus commanded in Matt 28:19 was a different one from the one His disciples and John the Baptist performed. The one commanded by Jesus was in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The one performed by John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples could not be the same one because it was not in the name of the Holy Spirit, who had then not yet come. The baptism of John the Baptist may not have been necessary for salvation but the one commanded by Jesus was.

We know that the baptism commanded by Jesus was indeed different from the one performed by John the Baptist from the following passage.

(Acts 19:1-6) While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples {2} and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” {3} So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. {4} Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” {5} On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. {6} When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

The baptism “in the name of Jesus” here is most likely “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” as the Holy Spirit had already arrived. It is common for the expression to be shortened when recording the incident (See Acts 10:48).

Response

Although the two baptisms are different, it is not the case that those who were baptized by John had to be baptized again in the name of the trinity before they can receive salvation. The previous passage describes a group of people who were baptized again simply because the second baptism was different but they did so not because they were not saved before they went through this second baptism. The Bible tells us that John’s baptism was one that involved repentance and people who went to him were forgiven of their sins.

(Mark 1:4) And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Objection

The symbolism of baptism in Romans 6 makes it obvious that baptism’s true meaning would not be revealed until Jesus’ work on the earth (death, burial, resurrection) was complete.

(Rom 6:3-4) Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? {4} We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Therefore baptism became necessary for salvation after Jesus’ death and resurrection as it was symbolic of the death of our old self and the resurrection of our new self.

Response

It is intuitive to think of water baptism as symbolizing Christ’s death and resurrection. When we are immersed into the water, it is as though we are buried in the ground and when we rise from the water, it is as though we rise from the dead. Yet this may not be what water baptism symbolizes at all. For a start, when the people in Jesus’ days were buried, they were not put under the ground. They were simply put in a tomb above the ground that resembles more like a cave. The body is then sealed in the tomb by putting a huge rock over its entrance. Therefore one suggest that water baptism symbolizes burial and resurrection only when we read our modern day experience of burial and resurrection. In the minds of the New Testament believers, it is highly unnatural that an action like immersion into water and coming out of it would symbolize burial and resurrection.

I believe that Rom 6 is not talking about water baptism. The passage is either talking about “baptized into Christ” as meaning “identified with Christ” or as meaning an actual (not symbolical) baptism into Christ’s body, the Church.

It is perfectly possible for the words “baptized into Christ” to mean “identified with Christ”. We must not think that whenever the word “baptized” is used, it must always refer to water baptism (even though many times it does). The Greek Lexicon gives 20 different meanings for the word ‘baptism’. Obviously this word has a wide usage and many times it does not refer to water baptism. Let’s look at some examples.

Lk 12:50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed(NIV)

Jesus said these words shortly before He died (after He was baptized by John). Did Jesus mean that He will undergo a second water baptism? No. Jesus was referring to His death or a baptism of (immersion into) suffering.

1 Cor 10:2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. (NIV)

What does ‘baptized into Moses’ mean? Moses did not have a baptismal service at the Red Sea and baptized them because actually they did not get wet at all (Heb 11:29). Now the word ‘baptized’ here means ‘identified’. Hebrew 11:29 says, “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as dry land..”. Whose faith was it? It wasn’t their faith. They had none. Exodus 14:10­31 tell us that they wanted to go back to Egypt and they were blaming Moses for bringing them out into that awful wilderness. It was Moses faith that saved them. The people of Israel were saved because they identified with Moses who had faith.

It is in this meaning that Rom 6 should be understood. In the same way “baptized into Moses” means “identified with Moses”, “baptized into Christ” means “identified with Christ”. Therefore, Paul is saying that if you are identified with Christ, just as Christ was buried you too are buried, and just as Christ was raised you too will be raised. Being identified with Christ is a perfectly common expression used in those days to refer to Christians, for the word “Christian” itself means nothing more than “little Christs”. Note further Col 2:12 says those who are baptized into (ie identified with) Christ have clothed themselves with Christ.

If Rom 6 is not talking about identification with Christ, it could be talking about an actual immersion into Christ’s body, the Church. In water baptism, the person who baptizes us is usually our church pastor or other ministers (in the early church days it was John the Baptist, Jesus’ disciples or the apostles). The object in which we are immersed (or baptized into) is water. Therefore water baptism has a human baptizer and water as the medium. This is not the case for Rom 6:3-5. The believer is not baptized into water; he is baptized into the body of Jesus. Elsewhere the Bible tells us that the person who baptizes us into the body of Jesus is none other than the Holy Spirit Himself. Therefore the Holy Spirit is the Baptizer.

(1 Cor 12:12-13) The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. {13} For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

The body of Christ has many parts and it represents the church. When a person believes, the Holy Spirit takes him and baptizes (ie immerse) him into the body of Christ, which is the church. This process is absolutely necessary for that person to be considered saved. He has to be included in the body of believers.

Another reason why I do not believe that Rom 6 is talking about water baptism is that elsewhere the Bible teaches that one is buried and raised with Christ, not by water baptism, but by faith.

Col 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. (NIV)

Conclusion

If we reason that baptism was not a condition of salvation before Jesus’ resurrection and became a necessary condition after, then one still has to explain why Cornelius and his household were saved even before they were baptized. And this event occurred after Jesus’ resurrection.

Cornelius and his household

Acts 10:44­47 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” (NIV)

Objection

Verse 47 tells us that they were baptized. So baptism is necessary for salvation.

Response

It is true that they were eventually baptized. But they were saved (as evidenced by their receiving of the Holy Spirit and their speaking in tongues) before they were even baptized. If baptism is a prerequisite for salvation, why were these people saved before their baptism?

Paul was not sent to baptize

1 Cor 1:14­17 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (NIV)

Paul said that he was glad that he baptized no one so that no one could boast that they have been baptized by him. If baptism is necessary for salvation, would Paul have said such words? The pros of Paul baptizing someone is that that person would be saved but the cons would be that the person may boast that he was baptized by Paul. If baptism is indeed necessary for salvation, would the pros not totally outweigh the cons? Would Paul still have said that he was glad he did not baptize anyone except those two few people if water baptism is necessary for salvation?

Furthermore, Paul said that Jesus did not send him to baptize but to preach the gospel. If one believes that both the gospel and water baptism are necessary for salvation, why would Jesus send Paul to do one but not the other? How effectively would Paul be in the extension of Christ’ kingdom if he does only half the job?

Verse 16 also tells us that Paul is not taking baptism that seriously. He does not even remember who he baptized. If baptism is necessary for salvation, and Paul was sent only to preach the gospel (in which case someone else has to baptize the believers before they can be saved), would it not be of paramount importance that he remembers who has not yet been baptized so that his other colleagues can follow up and complete the seal of salvation by baptizing the believers?

Furthermore, the Bible teaches that the “gospel” is the message of salvation.

(Rom 1:15-16) That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. {16} I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

And Paul is sent by God to preach the gospel.

(Rom 1:1) Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God--

The reason why Paul, who was called to preach the gospel or message of salvation but was not also called to baptize is because baptism is not part of the message of salvation.

Baptism is a work of righteousness

The Bible teaches that salvation is through faith alone and not works.

(Eph 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-- {9} not by works, so that no one can boast.

(Titus 3:5-6) he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, {6} whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,

Therefore baptism cannot be a condition for salvation as it is a work of righteousness.

(Mat 3:13-15) Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. {14} But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” {15} Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

Baptism not a condition for salvation in John’s gospel

The gospel of John was written with one specific aim - that is to tell the message of salvation so that people who believe in it can have eternal life.

(John 20:31) But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Yet it is interesting to note that the gospel of John does not refer to baptism even once as a condition for salvation. While one cannot stretch the argument from silence too much, it is indeed strange that John’s gospel, the only one scholars agree to be written specifically with the salvation message, did not even mention baptism once as a condition for salvation.

Verses that seem to teach baptism as necessary for salvation have been misinterpreted

Those who believes and is baptized will be saved?

Mk 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (NIV)

Answer

Jesus mentioned “baptism” together with “believe” because it is common for people in those days to be baptized immediately after believing. But that does not mean that both acts are required for salvation.

Notice that the second part of the verse does not talk even about baptism. Those who do not believe will be condemned. It is true that those who do not believe will not be bothered to get baptized, therefore no mention of baptism here is only natural. But what about those who believed but did not bother to be baptized? If baptism is necessary, then these people are not saved. And in this verse where Jesus first mentions both baptism and belief with regards to salvation, and if both acts are required for salvation, is it not natural and of utmost necessity that he would caution that those who believe but is not baptized will also be condemned?

Baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins?
Verse 1

Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (NIV)

Answer

Acts 2:38 does not teach that baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sin. The commandment to believe and be baptized come together because in those times, both events occurred together. Someone who believed John the Baptist’s message would immediately step forward to be baptized. It is only in present times that both events are usually separated and one goes through baptism class, etc. Therefore, the commandments to repent and be baptized were put together, not because both were necessary for salvation, but because both naturally occurred together. We find other instances whereby only repentance is stated as being necessary for salvation. This would not be correct if baptism had also been necessary. One example is the following verse.

Acts 3:19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, (NIV)

Notice that baptism is not necessary for the forgiveness of sin.

Verse 2

Acts 22:16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’ (NIV)

Answer

Acts 22:16 does not teach that we can have our sins removed by being baptized. The verse contains two commandments. The first one is to get up and be baptized. And the second one is to wash away one’s sins by calling on the name of Jesus. The Bible teaches that calling on Jesus is necessary for us to be saved.

Acts 2:21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (NIV)

This does not mean that Acts 3:19 and Acts 2:21 are contradicting Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16. They can only be said to be contradicting if the last two verses indeed teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. But I am saying that they do not. Baptism is mentioned only because the two acts of believing and baptism occur together during those times so it is natural to mention them together. The fact that the Bible is not self-contradictory proves that baptism is not necessary for salvation. If baptism is necessary but is not mentioned in the first two verses, then not only are the first two contradicting the last two, they are outright wrong!

But one may say : Acts 2:21 and Acts 3:19 do not mention faith either, which is necessary for salvation. So it is logical that they may not mention baptism which is also necessary for salvation. Acts 2:21 and Acts 3:19 do not mention faith because the necessity of faith is already built into the two verses.

Acts 2:21 teaches that those who called on the name of the Lord will be saved. Many people today “call on the name of Jesus” but they do that in a profaning manner. When people swear, they say “My God” or “Jesus Christ”. They are literally calling on the name of God but is Acts 2:21 teaching us that they will be saved? No. We would understand the verse to mean that those who sincerely believe that Jesus can help them and call upon Him for help will be saved.

Acts 3:19 talks about repenting and turning to God as necessary for salvation. The word “repenting” would include the element of belief. Actually, the word “repentance” literally means to have a change of mind towards something or someone. It can refer to changing our mind about sin and turning away from it (Luke 17:3­4) but it can also mean changing our mind about a person or fact in the sense of believing what we used to doubt.

Acts 19:4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” (NIV)

In this verse, John the Baptist urged the people to repent by believing in Jesus, not by turning from their sins.

Mt 11:20 Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. (NIV)

Jesus was angry with those cities because even though he did the most miracles in them, they did not repent. Did Jesus perform miracles so that we can feel regret for our sins? No, miracles were performed so that we can believe that Jesus is from God. (John 20:30-31) Therefore repentance here refers to changing of minds about Jesus.

Verse 3

Eph 5:26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, (NIV)

Answer

Eph 5:26 does not talk about water baptism. It talks about God’s word cleansing us. And this cleansing effect is compared to that of water. This form of speech is used because it is well understood by the Jews. The Jews were instructed by God to use water to cleanse themselves to depict spiritual cleansing.

(Num 19:13) Whoever touches the dead body of anyone and fails to purify himself defiles the Lord’s tabernacle. That person must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean; his uncleanness remains on him.

(Lev 11:31-32) Of all those that move along the ground, these are unclean for you. Whoever touches them when they are dead will be unclean till evening. {32} When one of them dies and falls on something, that article, whatever its use, will be unclean, whether it is made of wood, cloth, hide or sackcloth. Put it in water; it will be unclean till evening, and then it will be clean.

Eph 5:26 is actually trying to relate back to the experience of using water to cleanse ourselves spiritually. Notice Jesus makes the church holy by cleansing her through the word. The Bible teaches that God’s word can make us clean.

Jn 17:17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (NIV)

Jn 15:3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. (NIV)

Verse 4

(Mark 1:4) And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Answer

Mark 1:4 tells us that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But it is not the physical act of baptism that is responsible for washing away the people’s sins. Paul tells us that John’s preaching of the baptism of repentance is one that tells the people to have faith in Jesus.

(Acts 19:4) Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”

The sins of the people who went to John were forgiven because they came forward to confess their sins during the baptism.

(Mat 3:6) Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

Their sins were not forgiven because of the physical act of water baptism, which is only symbolical. Water baptism is symbolical of washing ourselves clean from sin. This is no different from previous practice of the Jews when they dip something unclean in water to make it clean. (Lev 11:31-32)

Verse 5

Heb 10:22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (NIV)

Answer

The phrase “having our bodies washed with pure water” could be referring to the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is sometimes depicted as water.

(John 7:38-39) Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” {39} By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Therefore the author of Hebrews could be referring to our hearts being sprinkled and cleansed (by the blood of Jesus?) and our bodies washed cleansed by water (Holy Spirit?).

Even if it is referring to water baptism, the use of water baptism as cleansing of our bodies is only symbolical as can be seen from the whole verse. Our hearts are not literally sprinkled by the blood of Jesus any more than our bodies are literally washed clean by the water during water baptism.

Verse 6

Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,

Answer

This verse is not referring to water baptism as it speaks about the washing done by the Holy Spirit, not the washing done by the water during baptism. The verse is talking about the cleansing and renewal function of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit renews us through a new birth.

(John 3:5-6) Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. {6} Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

The Holy Spirit also cleanses us by convicting us of sin and encouraging us in righteousness.

(John 16:7-8) But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. {8} When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:

Only those who are baptized are regarded as Christians?

Acts 2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (NIV)

Some people claim that according to this verse, only those who were baptized were regarded as Christians (ie added to the number).

Answer

The verse does not say that only those who were baptized were added to the number. It says that those who accepted the message were added to their number and these people who accepted their message also came forward to be baptized. It is not necessary to be baptized before one is considered a Christian as can be seen from the next verse.

Acts 4:4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. (NIV)

Only those born of water (meaning baptized) are saved?

Jn 3:5­6 5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. (NIV)

Some understand the words ‘born of water’ to refer to water baptism.

Answer

The phrase ‘born of water’ need not refer to water baptism. Some believe that “born of water” is synonymous with “born of spirit”. Others believe that “born of water” means “rebirth as a result of the Word”. Still others believe that the water refers to water of a mother’s womb.

Why do people think that “born of water” and “born of spirit” refers to the same thing? Verse 6 contrasts Spirit with flesh. Why is there no mention of water? This could be because ‘born of Spirit’ and ‘born of water’ refer to the same thing. And this is even more possible since we know that water is commonly used to depict the Holy Spirit.

Jn 7:38­39 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (NIV)

Some believe that the water symbolizes the word of God which can cleanse us.

(Eph 5:26) to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,

These people note that Peter refers to being born again through the word of God.

(1 Pet 1:23) For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

Still others believe that Jesus is speaking of the water of the womb, since Nicodemus just mentioned the mother’s womb in the preceding verse. In other words, these people believe that Jesus is saying that one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless he is born twice - the first of the woman’s womb (as Nicodemus mentioned) and the second by spirit (and not the womb the second time as Nicodemus mentioned).

We are saved through water (meaning baptism)?

1 Peter 3:20­23 20 who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities and powers subject to him. (RSV)

Answer

This verse tells us that baptism saves us. However, it is important to ask how baptism saves us and which part of the baptism experience saves us. Why is this important? The Bible teaches that anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2:21) Does that mean that those who swear using Jesus’ name will be saved? No. Does that mean that those who are born dumb and cannot verbalize Jesus’ name will not be saved? Again, no. This verse is understood to mean that those who call upon Jesus to be their Savior will be saved. Calling out Jesus’ name saves us but not the verbalizing itself but the intention and sincerity behind it. In the same way, water baptism does save us when it is accompanied by true repentance. John’s baptism was called a baptism of repentance. Those who went forward to be baptized by John went forward confessing their sins. Therefore baptism saves them indirectly, not directly. Baptism saves them because of the accompanying intention to repent. The saving effect, albeit indirect saving effect of baptism, is even taught in these verses about Noah.

The passage says that baptism saves us because it corresponds to the waters that saved Noah and his family. At this point of time it is necessary to ask how the water saved Noah as this will give us a clue as to how baptism can save us. Was Noah saved by water? No, water was a means of destruction for the whole world. But for Noah and his family, it became an indirect means of salvation because it floated the ark. It is not water that really saved Noah (would he have died without the flood waters?); it is his faith in God which prompted him to build the ark that saved him. Noah did not even touch the water.

Verse 21 then say that baptism saves us in a similar way. As the waters only saved Noah indirectly, baptism can only save us indirectly. The verse goes on to say that baptism does not remove dirt from our body (ie wash away our sins). If the physical act of baptism saves us, it needs to be able to remove sins from our body, but it does not. Baptism is merely an appeal to God for a clear conscience (ie for forgiveness of sins-how else can we have our conscience cleared before God?). Therefore, it is not the act of baptism that saves us (just as it is not water that saved Noah), it is our faith in God that saved us (just as it is Noah’s faith in God that saved him).

Baptism for the dead is being practiced by the early church

1 Cor 15:29 Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?

This verse seems to indicate that baptism is necessary for salvation. If not, why do people bother to baptize themselves on behalf of those who already died.

Some believe that Paul might be referring to cultic practices among the Corinthians. He was also addressing some who totally did not believe that there is resurrection from the dead and that Jesus did resurrect from the dead.

Paul is therefore addressing the inconsistent practices of these cults who practice baptism for the dead and yet claim that there is no resurrection of the dead. Notice that Paul uses words like “they” rather than “we” in the verse above.

archeological findings about baptism

This hole in the floor of a fourth century church building in Ephesus is actually an ancient baptistry and it illustrates rather clearly that baptism in the early centuries was by immersion rather than sprinkling or pouring. The word baptism means immersion in Greek.