A good friend of mine who belongs to the Church of Christ posted the above graphic on Facebook. Church of Christ teaches the following concerning water baptism:
“Churches of Christ teach that baptism by immersion for believers is essential for the remission of sins and is necessary for salvation. They use passages such as Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38 to substantiate this teaching. Baptism has a threefold purpose: (1) it is necessary for salvation; (2) it places the believer in Christ; and (3) it places the believer in the church.” (NAMB Online Source)
Rather than debate the issue however, I would like to address the above “Why?” questions, just to examine the passages used in the questions. What do they really say?
If faith alone saves before baptism. . .
“Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue.” John 12:42 (ESV)
- Why were the men in John 12:42 not complimented for their salvation since they “believed”?
John 12:42 is part of a section of John 12 (John 12:36-43) dealing with the unbelief of Jesus’ own Jewish people. Verse 42 tells us that in the midst of rampant unbelief many Jewish rulers did believe in Jesus as the Messiah, but did so secretly for fear of the Pharisees.
- Why were the convicted 3,000 wanting to know what to do since they were already saved the moment they were convicted? (Acts 2:37-41)
“37Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38And Peter said to them, “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. 39For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Acts 2:37-41 (ESV)
The context of the above passage is during the Apostle Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit had been poured out on a gathering of about 120 people, Jews living in Jerusalem and many foreigners who were attending the feast of Pentecost. Peter has just told the assembled Jewish crowd that although Jesus had been delivered up to Roman soldiers, they were guilty of crucifying their own Messiah! When those present realized that Jesus was intact the Messiah, they were in effect asking how they could possibly avoid the just judgment of the exalted Messiah.
- Why did Peter tell them remission of sins follows repentance and baptism? (Acts 2:38)
“And Peter said to them, “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.” Acts 2:38 (ESV)
Peter’s hearers had just asked him how they could possibly be forgiven for having crucified their Messiah. He responds by telling them what is needed for the forgiveness of any and all sin. The term “for” is used to prove repentance and water baptism is needed “in order to be” saved, however it can also mean “because you have been” saved. There are three possible meanings of the word “for” that might fit the context of Acts 2:38: 1–“in order to be, become, get, have, keep, etc.,” 2—“because of, as the result of,” or 3—“with regard to.”
- Why did Paul not think he was saved those three days be believed in Jesus but had not yet had his sins washed away? (Acts 22:16)
“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Acts 22:16 (ESV)
Actually, that’s not even a valid question. It was created to ‘prove’ a point.
In Acts 22, Paul had traveled to Jerusalem to report the progress of his church-planting ministry to the church leaders and apostles. Part of his report included his recounting his conversion on the road to Damascus and his encounter with Ananias, who told him what God had called him to do “..you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.”
We are nowhere told specifically when Paul was saved, but many believe it happened on the road to Damascus when he faced Christ and called him “Lord”. Others disagree. We are definitely not told when Paul knew he was saved or that Paul didn’t think he was saved before Ananias gave him his mission…
- Why did Paul say that we are “united together” with Jesus in Baptism? (Rom 6:3-5; Col 2:12)
“3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” Rom 6:3-5 (ESV).
“…having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Col 2:12 (ESV)
In baptism, by faith, we are united with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. Baptism dramatically portrays what happened spiritually when you received Christ: Your old self of unbelief and rebellion and idolatry died, and a new you of faith and submission and treasuring Christ came into being.
- Why did James say that “faith alone is dead”? (James 2:14-16)
“14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? James 2:14-16 (ESV)
Actually, James is merely answering his own question (v.14) and telling us that if you “say” you have faith but your faith is demonstrated by works, you never had “saving” faith. You might have had a kind of faith, but not a faith that saves.
You might be wondering why I even bothered to explain all of those “Why” passages when one of the cardinal rules of biblical interpretation is that “clear” passages can often tells us what “less clear” passages really mean, or do not/cannot mean. All of the above “Why” questions are asked assuming that water baptism is absolutely required in order to be saved. They completely ignore passages that clearly tell us that salvation is by faith alone.
Any verse that ascribes salvation to faith/belief, with no other requirement mentioned, is a declaration that salvation is by faith alone. John 3:16 declares that salvation is given to “whoever believes in Him.” Acts 16:31 proclaims, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” See also Romans 3:28; 4:5; 5:1; Galatians 2:16; 3:24; Ephesians 1:13; and Philippians 3:9. Many other verses could be referenced in addition to these.
The questions addressed here were great examples of “eisegesis” or reading into Scripture one’s own assumptions to try and prove one’s point. They all failed. I know this was a long post and I apologize. Perhaps it can be profitable as an exercise in examining other passages of scripture in which the text is pulled out of context to “prove” a point.
Have a blessed and Happy New Year!