At the age of thirty, Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, and proceeded to begin His ministry (Luke 3:21-23). Baptism (Greek noun: baptismos βαπτισμός) was commanded by Christ in Matthew 28:19. Numerous scriptures speak of the importance of water baptism, and as such, certain denominations believe that baptism is a requirement for salvation, and without it, one cannot enter into Heaven. This belief is called baptismal regeneration, and postulates that baptism is a requirement to be saved. In this article, we will explore a brief background of baptism, the purpose of baptism, and examine the verses cited to support baptismal regeneration and determine whether or not baptism is required for salvation. *This article is double-length. (Photo credit: Early Christian baptism portrayal on the catacomb of Saints Marcellinus and Peter, Via Labicana, Rome, Italy; "Wade in the Water." Postcard of a river baptism in New Bern, North Carolina near the turn of the 20th century.)
Flavius Josephus, 1st century Jewish historian, mentioned John the Baptist, "Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness." Josephus, as translated by William Whiston, A.M., affirms that John was a baptist, and baptized by "washing."
John 3:23 says, "Now John also was baptized at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized." Now, because John's gospel says, "there was plenty of water," many believe that this suggests baptism by immersion. While none of the baptisms recorded in Dr. Luke's work, Acts, specifically states the method of baptism, Acts 8:38-39 says, "...both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water..." This passage suggests baptism by immersion, meaning simply the entire body is briefly immersed in water in the name of "the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). While baptism by immersion was likely practiced by the church (and still is), inscriptions such as those upon the walls of ancient catacombs, according to a Catholic source:
"Much of the earliest Christian artwork depicts baptism, but not baptism by immersion! If the recipient… is in a river, he is always shown standing in the river while water is poured over his head from a cup or shell. Tile mosaics in ancient churches, paintings in the catacombs, designs on ordinary household objects like cups and spoons, engravings on marble--it is always baptism by pouring. Baptisteries in early cemeteries are clear witnesses to baptisms by infusion. The entire record of the early Church--as shown in the New Testament, in other writings, and in monumental evidence--indicates the mode of baptism was not restricted to immersion. Other archaeological evidence confirms the same thing. An early Christian baptistery was found in a church in Jesus hometown of Nazareth, yet this baptistery, which dates from the second century, was too small and narrow in which to immerse a person."
|From the catacomb of Marcellinus and Peter|
Also, Bible scholar Mark G. Easton writes that one cannot determine the mode of baptism by the Greek word alone. "Some Baptists say that it means ‘to dip,’ and nothing else," says Easton. "That is an incorrect view of the meaning of the word. It means both (1) to dip a thing into an element or liquid, and (2) to put an element or liquid over or on it." As such, "Nothing, therefore, as to the mode of baptism can be concluded from the mere word used. The word has a wide latitude of meaning, not only in the New Testament, but also in the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament, where it is used of the ablutions and baptisms required by the Mosaic law. These were effected by immersion, and by affusion and sprinkling; and the same word, ‘washings’ (Hebrews 9:10, 13, 19, 21) or ‘baptisms,’ designates them all."
It is important to then examine the claim that baptism in Christianity is based off a pagan religion. Is there any truth to this claim? The claim is essentially as follows: Mithras, the son god worshiped by people in what is now Iran, as well as by many Roman soldiers, had a cult following called Mithraism. A bloody cult - possible attraction for soldiers - the mythology said that Mithras was born with a knife. Mithras laid rode and killed the cosmic bull, the blood of which fertilized all plant life and also gave life to earth. Members of this cult worshiped Mithras by slaughtering bulls and standing in a pit below the corpses, allowing to blood to then wash over them. Though Christians believe that they are "washed... in the blood of the Lamb [Jesus]," (Revelation 7:14) this is for the remission of sins. Christians are not literally washed in Jesus' blood, nor do they baptize in blood. However, members of the Mithraism cult literally washed themselves in blood. Christianity teaches water baptism, whereas Mithraism teaches literal baptism by blood.
According to Gregory A. Boyd, Ph.D., "As for the suggestion that the New Testament doctrines of baptism or communion come from mystery religions, that's just nonsense. For one thing, the evidence for these supposed parallels comes after the second century, so any borrowing would have to come from Christianity, not the other way around. And when you look carefully, the similarities vanish. For instance, to get to a higher level in the Mithra cult, followers had to stand under a bull while it was slain, so they could be bathed in its blood and guts. Then they'd join others in eating the bull. Now, to suggest that Jews would find anything attractive about this and want to model baptism and communion after this barbaric practice is extremely implausible, which is why most scholars don't go for it." With this understanding, we face the burning question: is baptism necessary for salvation?
The first verse used to allegedly support this belief is Mark 16:6. The verse says, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." We must note that the clause, "whoever does not believe will be condemned," does not say, "whoever is not baptized will not be saved." If an individual does not believe, they will not be saved - this verse does not say that if you are not baptized, you will not be saved, it says that if you do not believe you will be condemned. This is confirmed in John 3:18, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." Mark 16:6 does not teach that baptism is necessary for salvation, but that belief is. It is also important to note that there is a disagreement as to whether or not the text of Mark 16:9-20 was in the original manuscript. As such, it is important not to base an entire theology off of references in this text, unless it is supported by other verses in Scripture.
"In no way does this verse establish baptism as a condition for salvation; it is merely the declaration that those who believe and are baptized are saved. Any act of obedience to the Lord could be added after the expression 'whoever believes' and it would remain a true statement, because salvation is the result of faith in Christ. It should be noted that when the Lord added, 'but whoever does not believe will be condemned,' there is no mention of baptism. In identifying what would bring about condemnation, Jesus did not say that 'whoever believes but is not baptized shall not be save.' If baptism were necessary for salvation, there are many significant verses which should be amended to read 'you are saved through faith and baptism.' It is clear that faith in Jesus Christ is what saves a person (Acts 16:30-31; Eph. 2:8-9). Baptism is a distinct act of obedience, apart from salvation. This is clarified by the order in which the words 'believe' and 'baptize' occur in the text (cf. Acts 2:38; 10:44-48). Baptism with the Spirit places believers into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), while water baptism merely signifies to others that a person has professed Christ. The word 'saved' is translated from the Greek word sesosmenoi, which is a perfect passive participle. It means that this salvation took place at some point in the past, being accomplished by Jesus Christ Himself, and is continuing on in the present." 
To claim that this passage supports baptismal regeneration is to commit a Negative Inference Fallacy, which is essentially, "If a statement is true, we cannot assume that all negations (or opposites) of that statement are also true." Applied to Mark 16:6, this means that one is committing a fallacy (misleading statement) by drawing out of the verse a doctrine that if someone is not baptized they will not be saved. The text does not say this, but it does say that those who do not believe are condemned. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, "he who is not baptized will not be saved." To add any other requirement to salvation by grace becomes "works" or "good deeds." While baptism is important for a believer after salvation in that those who are baptized demonstrate an outward sign of commitment to Christ and this process signifies the cleansing of sins, it is the contention of this ministry that baptism is not a requirement for salvation (Galatians 3:27, Colossians 2:12, Romans 6:3-5).
To say that a works-based salvation is taught from Scripture is to go against what God's Word teaches. Adding any other requirement takes away the work of Jesus on the cross as well as demeaning the sacrifice of God incarnate. Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly teaches, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." If works or good deeds saved a person, we would be able to boast. But this is not the case. Also, to say that baptism is required for salvation restricts who can be saved. John 5:24 is clear that upon the moment of expressing belief and faith in Christ, eternal life is granted (see also Romans 10:9). 1st John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
"If baptism is required for salvation, it means no one can be saved without a third party being present. In other words, if baptism is required for salvation, someone must baptize a person before he can be saved. This effectively limits who can be saved and when he can be saved. It means that someone who believes in and trusts in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but does not have the chance of being baptized, cannot be saved. The consequences of this doctrine, when carried to its logical conclusion, are devastating. A soldier who believes but is killed in battle before he can be baptized would perish, etc."
The next relevant verse is 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." Confusion over this verse comes from the Greek eis, which we translate as "for." Many assume that the phrase simply means, "in order to get." The Greek eis has several possible usages, however. Consider the phrase, "I will remain here, for the army has not yet arrived." This would not make sense if it was said, "I will remain here, in order to get the army has not yet arrived." While "for" can be used as, "to get, become, keep, have, in order to obtain," it can also mean, "because of, as a result of, concerning, in regard to, etc." Greek scholars A.T. Robertson and J.R. Mantey maintain that the Greek eis in Acts 2:38 should be translated “because of” or “in view of,” and not “in order to,” or “for the purpose of.” In regard to Matthew 3:11, Romans 6:3 and 1st Corinthians 10:2, the Greek eis is used in the "result of" form. There are several other examples in the New Testament where eis is used "as a result of," rather than "to obtain," or "to get."
Note also that Acts 2:38 never says, "if you are not baptized, you will not be forgiven of sins." It begins with "repent," "for the forgiveness of sins." Bear in mind Luke 23:39-43, in which the thief on the cross is promised by Jesus, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." The thief, who (it is implied) expressed belief in Christ, was not told to be baptized. Though some can argue that he may have been baptized beforehand, this is an argument from silence to support a belief in baptismal regeneration, a doctrine which is not taught in God's Word. In Acts 10:43, Peter says to Cornelius, "everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." By this point, baptism had not been discussed, and note that belief is connected with the forgiveness of sins - not baptism. In the following verse, we read that "the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message," and only later, after Cornelius and his household believed, were they baptized (v.47-48). Acts 2:38 does not teach that baptism is a requirement for salvation, nor does it say that those who are not baptized will not receive the Holy Spirit. Very clearly in Acts 10, Cornelius and his household believe, receive the Holy Spirit, and only then are baptized - not before or during.
Acts 22:16 is another verse cited in favor of this doctrine. It says, "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, and be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." Paul heard and believed in Jesus on the road to Damascus. When Ananias came, Paul had already believed in Christ (Acts 9:17). At the time when Ananias prayed for him to receive his sight, Paul also received the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17), which was before he was baptized (Acts 9:18). Paul was not necessarily converted on the road to Damascus, but when he received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within a Christian from the moment of salvation. There is, however, some theological disagreement as to whether Paul was saved the moment he heard Christ or when he was filled with the Holy Spirit, yet the point here is that nevertheless, Paul was saved prior to his baptism.
Also, "The Greek aorist participle, epikalesamenos, translated 'calling on His name' refers either to action that is simultaneous with or before that of the main verb, 'be baptized.' Here Paul’s calling on Christ’s name for salvation preceded his water baptism. The participle may be translated 'having called on His name' which makes more sense, as it would clearly indicate the order of the events." It is unlikely that Jesus would commission Paul before his salvation, leading us to the conclusion that Acts 22:16 does not support baptismal regeneration. Concerning Galatians 3:27, which says, "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ," this is another verse often cited in support of this belief. Yet a brief overview of the immediate context of the passage reveals this is not the case. In Galatians 1:6-10, Paul rebukes some of the Galatians who were turning to a false gospel. In Galatians 2:6, Paul is clear that we are justified not by "the works of the law but by faith in Christ." Also, it must be noted that the text does not specifically mention water baptism. This is important because at Pentecost, the disciples were baptized in the Holy Spirit, just as we are "baptized in the Spirit" at the moment of salvation (1st Corinthians 12:12-13).
Jesus is the one who would "baptize with the Holy Spirit" (John 1:33-34), which appears to be what Paul was writing about in Galatians 3:27 - not water baptism. 1st Peter 3:21 says, "and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also - not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience of God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." The phrase, "baptism that now saves you" is cited as "evidence" for baptismal regeneration. However, this is clearly not the case. Peter clarified, "not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience of God." In other words, Peter is not speaking of water baptism, but of baptism in the Spirit. For the believer, baptism is the outward sign of what God has done “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5), and a sign of commitment to Him. Today, we tell people to "pray the sinner's prayer" and "make a decision for Christ," instead of making a public declaration of faith in Christ and asking forgiveness from the heart - not praying an organized prayer. No magical prayer grants entrance into heaven, but true repentance and faith by grace. Today, this is often followed by baptism later, but not always.
In Peter's day, however, this would have been unheard of. Baptism was an outward sign of commitment that an individual should do as soon as possible, which is why Paul, the eunuch, and many others were baptized not long after salvation. We are saved not by baptism, not by good works or good deeds, so that no one can boast. 1st Peter 3:21 evidently does not teach that one must be baptized to be saved. Note that even if 1st Peter 3:21 was speaking only of water baptism (it mentions it), it does not say, "he who is not baptized is not saved." It says that baptism is a pledge to God, a sign of clear conscience, and not by the removal of dirt (i.e. not water baptism) but through the Spirit. The final verse we will examine in this double-length article is John 3:5, "Jesus answered, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.'"
At a glance, it may appear as if, among the verses cited, this verse cannot be explained. Advocates point to the phrase "born of water" as evidence for baptism. However, the phrase "baptism" does not appear in this verse. In fact, baptism is not spoken of in this particular conversation. Although baptism is mentioned later in this chapter in reference to John the baptist, who was "baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water" (John 3:22-30), but it is in a different setting (Judea instead of Jerusalem) as well as being at a different time from the discussion with Nicodemus. Simply because the verse refers to "born of water" does not specifically mean baptism. The verse does not say, "no one can enter the kingdom of God without being baptized and the Spirit," but "without being born of water and the Spirit." If not baptism, what would the phrase "born of water" refer to?
|River Baptism in North Carolina (Turn of 20th Century)|
"We should also not lose sight of the fact that when Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, the ordinance of Christian baptism was not yet in effect. This important inconsistency in interpreting Scripture is seen when one asks those who believe baptism is required for salvation why the thief on the cross did not need to be baptized to be saved. A common reply to that question is: 'The thief on the cross was still under the Old Covenant and therefore not subject to this baptism. He was saved just like anyone else under the Old Covenant.' So, in essence, the same people who say the thief did not need to be baptized because he was 'under the Old Covenant' will use John 3:5 as 'proof' that baptism is necessary for salvation. They insist that Jesus is telling Nicodemus that he must be baptized to be saved, even though he too was under the Old Covenant. If the thief on the cross was saved without being baptized (because he was under the Old Covenant), why would Jesus tell Nicodemus (who was also under the Old Covenant) that he needed to be baptized?"
There are two major interpretations of what the phrase "born of water" refers to. The first is that Jesus was referring to the natural birth, referring to the amniotic fluid which surrounds a baby in the womb, with being born of the "Spirit" implying natural birth. The second interpretation is that this water referred to spiritual cleansing or renewal. Both Testaments show that water is sometimes used figuratively (Psalm 51:2,7; Ezekiel 36:25; John 13:10; 15:3; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Hebrews 10:22), in regard to spiritual cleansing or regeneration, from the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, and at the moment of eternal salvation (see Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5). It is also important to note that the Greek grammar of this particular verse would place being "born of water and the Spirit" as one thing, not two separate things. Jesus speaks of the "living water" to the woman at the well (John 4:10), as well as to a crowd in Jerusalem in John 7:37-39, which evidently is not literal water. The Greek word translated "again" can also mean "from above." This may be where Nicodemus' confusion arose, and why Jesus clarified. Being "born again" and "born from above" are the same thing.
There are many other objections raised concerning these verses, but it is not the intention of this article to examine in-depth every claim or objection concerning baptismal regeneration, but to demonstrate that it is an unbiblical concept, and that it is clearly not taught in God's Word. To read into texts what the reader intends to find is unwise. We should be like the Bereans, who searched the Scriptures to test doctrines. Scripture does not contradict scripture (see series: "Does The Bible Contain Contradictions?"), and the best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture itself. Baptism is not required for salvation, and it ought to be conveyed that nowhere in Scripture does it state, "those who have not been baptized shall not be saved." Instead it says of Jesus, "whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
There is no clause of added works or good deeds. This would likened unto attempting to move in with the U.S. President by telling him, "I am a good person, my works and good deeds show this." The President would turn you away, not necessarily because he had never heard of you, but because you never had a relationship. So it is with God. If we do not believe and have a relationship with our Creator, how can we be expect to be allowed into His house? Works (including baptism) do not get us to Heaven - Jesus does. Baptism is important, it is, as aforementioned, an outward sign of commitment to God, a sign of repentance as well as signifying the washing away of sins, but baptism does not save us. The example of Paul, Cornelius, and the thief are sufficient to demonstrate this, though there are others. Water baptism is something every believer still ought to participate in.
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 Translated by William Whiston, A.M. Josephus: The Complete Works (The Antiquities of the Jews 5.2.116-117). Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998. Print. pp.581
 Catholic Answers, San Diego, 2002.
 "Christian Baptism." WebBible Encyclopedia. Christian Answers Network, n.d. Web. 17 Sep 2011. http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/baptism.html
 Miller, Stephen M. The Jesus of the Bible. 1st ed,. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing Inc., 2009. 48-49. Print.
 Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. 1st ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998. 121-122. Print.
 Spiros Zodhiates, editor, The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible (Chattanooga, Tennessee: AMG Publishers, 1996), note for Mark 16:16.
 "Does Mark 16:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?." Got Questions.org. Got Questions Network, n.d. Web. 18 Sep 2011.
 "Does Acts 22:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?." Got Questions.org. Got Questions Network, n.d. Web. 18 Sep 2011.
 "Does John 3:5 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?." Got Questions.org. Got Questions Network, n.d. Web. 18 Sep 2011.