Objections to Baptism?

Baptism is perhaps the most debated matter pertaining to salvation. We regret that there are so many misunderstandings about baptism. Why are there objections to baptism? To us, the scriptures are clear on this subject. We believe in taking the whole of scripture, not just selected passages, in understanding God's will, especially the response He has instructed us to give in accepting His free gift of salvation.
     We whole-heartedly believe that we are saved by the grace of God through accepting Jesus as our Savior and recognizing Him as our Lord. Is baptism involved in our acceptance of His grace? We believe that's what the scriptures say.

     It could be that some do not distinguish between our initial, first response to the gospel and our ongoing, continual response as Christians. Belief, confession, and repentance are both initial responses to God's grace and ongoing responses for all Christians. Baptism, however, is only an initial response, being done to the believer when they first come to Christ. All are necessary for salvation, despite certain passages that mention only one or two of these.

Whenever we see in scripture a reference to baptism, we should ask, "Is this the same word or meaning that Jesus had in mind in Matt. 20:19 when he instructed his disciples to baptize those in all nations?" And, if not, why not? And if not, then what is the intended meaning?

Here we present several objections to baptism as being essential to receive salvation, and responses to them. (We invite your comments via e-mail.)

OBJECTION #1: Baptism is a work, and we are not saved by works.
    Response: Baptism is NOT a work. The believer is passive, not active, in baptism. Another person dips them under water and lifts them back up. Furthermore, nowhere in the New Testament is baptism called or described as a "work" of any kind, yet Jesus himself characterized belief as a work in John 6:28-29. Belief is not a meritorious work (that is, to earn something), but a response to God. The same is true of baptism. Both are works insofar as they are "something done." Confession with the mouth is a physical activity on the part of a believer -- why then is this not regarded as a work, yet the passive involvement of a believer in baptism often is?
    Study Galatians 3. Paul goes to great lengths to explain that they were saved by God's grace, not by the Law or works of the Law. But then, in vss. 26-29 he affirms baptism. If baptism was a work of righteousness, he would not have affirmed the importance of immersion!
    Whose idea was Christian baptism in the first place? The water baptism of the New Testament for the remission of sins (along with repentance, belief, and confession) was given a special meaning by God (Mk. 16:16, Acts 2:38, Col. 2:9-15. I Pet. 3:21, etc.). No one can say that baptism is a "work" of man, since it is by God's design, "not of our own righteousness." In baptism, God, does all the work, and man does nothing but trust God, participating in the experience symbolizing the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

OBJECTION #2: There are several passages that clearly teach we are justified by faith, so baptism is not essential.
    Response: How do you define "faith?" Is it limited to intellectual belief? Emotional conviction? James says such faiths are dead, and no one is justified by such faiths alone. Indeed, intellectual belief and emotional conviction must be included with other aspects, such as belief, outward confession, initial and ongoing repentance, baptism, and ongoing obedience. Our understanding of the biblical definition of faith is inclusive of these things. Study Hebrews 11 for examples of what faith is. The faith of these people is not separate and apart from their actions.

OBJECTION #3: People's sins were forgiven without baptism by Jesus.
    Response: Yes, that is correct (see the penitent woman - Luke 7:37-50, the paralytic man - Matt. 9:2, and the tax collector - Luke 18:13-14). Keep in mind that (1) Prior to his death, Jesus and all others lived under the old covenant (the new did not begin until after his death). Their sins were in effect forgiven just as anyone else's sins were forgiven in that day and time. Ultimately, their sins were rolled forward in time to the cross of Christ.

OBJECTION #4: The thief on the cross was saved without baptism.
    Response: The thief on the cross was a Jew and died a Jew. being forgiven under the terms of a different covenant. One cannot be baptized into the death of Jesus (cf. Rom. 6) when Jesus has not yet died. He died like the patriarchs, except he bore witness to the fulfilling of the promise not from far away (in time) but was near his Messiah.

OBJECTION #5: There is no record of the apostles being baptized.
     Response: Read Acts 9:18 and Acts 22:16 for the record of the baptism of the apostle Paul. True, we do not have records of the baptisms of the other apostles, but does this mean they weren't? No. They may have been included in Matt. 3:5. In Matt. 2, Jesus was baptized, and they were to follow his example to be obedient. To suggest that the apostles, who preached baptism, were not themselves baptized, is not a sound argument. Why would Paul have been baptized if the others were not?

OBJECTION #6: Jesus said in the great commission that baptism was not a condition in judgment (condemnation) (Mk. 16:16).
    Response: While it is questioned whether Mark 16:9-20 was part of Mark's original writing, it is in harmony with the rest of the New Testament. Mark 16:16 is a strong argument for the essential nature of baptism, but far from being the only one. Jesus said "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." Question: If someone said, "Whoever believes in the tooth fairy and jumps in my pool will get $100," what would one have to do for the $100? Answer: Believe in the tooth fairy and jump in the pool, and nothing less.
"But Jesus did not include the failure to be baptized as a condition for condemnation."
    That's because the logical statements of our Lord do not require him to do so. Belief must precede the response of repentance and baptism. Without belief, baptism is meaningless (as it is with infant baptism).
    For example, if someone said:

"If I fall in love with Jane Doe and legally wed her, I will be married to her. But if I do not fall in love with Jane Doe, I will not be married to her."

Would this mean a wedding is not necessary for a marriage? No. The same logic is present; the wedding follows falling in love, and the wedding is still necessary for marriage.
    Or, follows these steps: "(1) If you take my car keys and (2) start the engine, (3)you can drive my car; but if you do not take my car keys (step 1), you cannot drive my car (step 3)." Starting the engine (step 2) requires the keys (step 1), and is necessary to drive the car. Jesus gave a progressive order in our response to God's grace: First, believe; second, be baptized. If you don't get to the first step, the second step is meaningless. To say the Jesus negated baptism here is to overlook simple logic and common sense.

OBJECTION #7: In Acts 2:38, "for" (Greek "eis") could be interpreted as "because of."
    Response: Yes, in the Greek, it could. But in no modern translation do we find this rendering, despite the work of hundreds of Greek scholars. We are left with "for", and it reads "for the remission of your sins." Baptism here is associated with repentance, not distinguished from it. That is, Peter is including almost parenthetically that baptism is integral to repentance (he expresses this also in 1 Pet 3:21). "Repent" and "sins" in the Greek are plural, and "baptized" is singular. This grammatical construction in Greek could be written,

"(All of you) Repent (and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ) for the forgiveness of your sins."

     Notice also that you cannot repent because your sins have been forgiven, but you must repent, and be baptized for (unto) the remission of your sins. Both repentance and baptism are linked to the remission of sins (cf: Acts 3:19 and 22:16). If baptism is not linked to the forgiveness of your sins in this verse, then what is it linked to? The question posed to Peter was, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (v. 27) Being "pierced to the heart", they wanted to know what to do to be saved, and obviously were not concerned with what they must do after they are saved. If baptism is not essential, why would Peter have instructed it in the first place when these people asked how they must respond?

OBJECTION #8: ...but Peter did not mention baptism in Acts 3:19; he said, "Repent, and turn to God..."
    Response: Nor did Peter say anywhere in Acts 2 "...turn to God," yet they obviously did turn to God in Acts 2. The absence of the mention of baptism does not mean it was not taught. As described above, baptism is associated with repentance in Acts 2 and 2 Pet. 1, so it was likely taught and done, though not specifically mentioned here.
    Notice also that Peter did not say in Acts 3:19 to believe in Jesus Christ or to confess him as the Son of God. Are these unnecessary, too? Using this as an argument against baptism, one must agree that belief and confession are unnecessary, also.
    Most importanly, however, is that Paul uses the exact same language as Peter in Acts 26:20:

"I preached that they should repent and turn to God...", but adds, "...and prove their repentance by their deeds."

Were Paul and Peter preaching different gospels? Of course not. Paul called for the affirmation of repentance, but Peter (so it appears) did not. Again, the absence of the mention of baptism in Acts 3 does not mean it was not taught. Baptism is integral to repentance.

OBJECTION #9: Paul doesn't preach baptism in his gospel presentations.
    Response: Read Acts 22, where Paul gives his testimony to his conversion. Read Romans 6, where he is teaching the Roman churches the significance of grace, justification by faith, and the importance of baptism. Read Eph. 4, Col. 2 - 3, Gal. 3:26-29, and I Cor. 12:13. Paul taught baptism in these instances. The absence of the specific mention of baptism (or repentance, confession, or belief for that matter) at any time does not make it unnecessary. These elements of faith are clearly substantiated elsewhere in the New Testament, and the New Testament must be taken as a whole.
    Keep in mind that most of Paul's writings were to people who were already Christians, and he obviously did not find it necessary to dwell on the subject of baptism since they had already been baptized.

OBJECTION #10: In Acts 22:16, remission of sins is linked with "calling on the name of the Lord," and not baptism.
    Response: First of all, the language "wash" is associated with being cleaned, either by the blood of Christ or by water. "Wash" is not associated with speaking. "Wash your sins away" refers to baptism (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21).
    Second, no known translation has worded this passage similar to this: "Get up, be baptized and wash away your sins by calling on his name." If that is what the Greek suggests, certainly, Greek scholars throughout the ages would have translated it accordingly. In fact, such a translation would not be out of harmony with scripture (cf. Romans 10:9), so why was this not "translated correctly?" Answer: it already is translated correctly: baptism is "when" and "where" God washes away our sins.

OBJECTION #11: Paul doesn't mention baptism in I Cor. 15:1-4.
    Response: Nor does he mention repentance here (as he did in Acts 26) or confession of Jesus as Lord (as he did in Romans 10). He does discuss baptism in other passages. Here, he does refer to believers (Christians) as having "taken your stand," calling them to "hold firm." Since Paul is not recounting the gospel for the sake of non-believers, he apparently did not see fit to recount what was necessary as an initial response. Therefore, his mention of belief is not a call to an initial belief in Jesus Christ, but an ongoing belief. The lost have not yet "taken their stand" and cannot "hold firm" to anything outside of Christ for hope. The bottom line is that this is not a gospel presentation to the lost, but to the saved; a message Christians need to hear over and over again for encouragement and for strengthening our faith.

OBJECTION #12: But Paul said he did not "come to baptize" (I Cor. 1:14-17).
    Response: If Paul was intending for us to understand that baptism was not essential, why does he list people he baptized in the same passage? (Notice also Cornelius in Acts 10, Lydia in Acts 16, and the jailer in Acts 16).
    What Paul is doing here is stating that his primary purpose was to preach the gospel. The Corinthians were dividing themselves, each faction aligning themselves either with who had taught them, baptized them, or with Jesus (v.12). Paul sought to unify them in Christ, and show that WHOMEVER HAD BAPTIZED THEM (not baptism itself) was not important in that regard. He stated earlier "I thank God I didn't baptize any of you...", not because baptism was wrong, but because these people aligned themselves -- wrongly -- with whomever had baptized them. Paul was mere thankful that he didn't have that kind of following; not that baptism was inappropriate.
    Notice what Paul says beforehand in vs. 13: "Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?" The answer to these questions is no. But how would this verse be stated in the positive? "Jesus was crucified for you! You were baptized into the name of Jesus." Paul's "negative" statement establishes the basis of being a true follower of Jesus: recognizing that Jesus died for your sins on the cross, and being baptized in the name of Jesus. Paul is actually demonstrating the necessity of baptism, and that it is into Jesus' name, not into Paul's or any other name.
    Furthermore, it was not unusual for preachers to have others do the baptizing for them (ie. Jesus, John 4:2 and Peter, Acts 10:48). Thus the fact that Paul baptized few people does not mean it was not done when he preached. On the contrary: every example of baptism is an immediate event, not something done at a "convenient time" or special service.
    The passage shows that baptism is important, as he saw to it that (1) he baptized some people, (2) he confirms that the Corinthians had been baptized by others and (3) that, if baptism was not necessary, he would have called them away from engaging in the practice since it became a source of division.

OBJECTION #13: But Cornelius and his house were saved before being baptized in water as the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 10).
    Response: We cannot determine when (or if) the "moment" of salvation occurs. Obviously, God would not impart his Holy Spirit on sinful, wicked people. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not necessarily the same as being saved. No one today can baptize another with the Holy Spirit. Apparently, those who were not yet saved were capable of being vessels of the Holy Spirit. The passage makes two things clear: this was an unusual circumstance (which never occurred again anywhere else in scripture), and water baptism was administered in harmony with God's will.
    It was unusual because God wanted to demonstrate that the Gentiles were to receive salvation as well as the Jews. The Holy Spirit was imparted so that Peter and the others (having the tables turned on them, so to speak) would be witnesses to a miracle by the Holy Spirit that confirmed God's message to them. Remember: the Holy Spirit of God also came upon a donkey and the evil priest Balaam, but neither were saved.
    But do notice what Peter said near the end of this account in chapter 11:17 "So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" Peter could not deny baptism (in water) to the Gentiles (10:47, 48). To do so (either by refusal or by omission) would have been to "oppose God." Notice that he mentions here that these people, too, "believed in the Lord Jesus Christ," but it was imperative for Peter to offer them water baptism.

OBJECTION #14: "Baptism" does not always mean water baptism.
    Response: There are instances where the Greek word can refer to something other than the baptism unto the remission of sins. Because "baptism" means to immerse or dip beneath water, some interpret it in a figurative sense -- not necessarily Holy Spirit baptism, but in another way.
    One preacher on the radio, for example, once said that Paul, in Romans 6, meant "immersion" like a student who is "immersed" in his studies. Being "baptized into his death" then becomes "being intellectually or emotionally focused on his death." But in verse 4, Paul says we are "buried." While many students today find themselves buried with studies, the context does not allow for this approach. The combination of immersion and burial affirms that he speaks of water baptism.
    Also, Paul compares baptism with the death of Christ in verse 5. This preacher's interpretation would mean that the death of Christ was not physical, but that Jesus just thought real hard about it.
    Some argue 1 Peter 3:21 does not refer to water baptism, since Peter says "not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God." To some, he distinguishes physical baptism from spiritual baptism. But if one reads the context, (1) he is clearly talking about water, comparing our water baptism to the waters of the flood, and (2) the contrast he makes does not suggest spiritual baptism. Peter is saying in verse 21 that our water baptism is not for cleaning our bodies (as the flood cleaned the earth of its evil), but it is where we make a pledge to God out of a good conscience toward him. The water of baptism does not wash away sin, but it is symbolic of where we meet God to give him our lives, just as Jesus gave us his life. Baptism is where we re-enact symbolically what Jesus did on the cross and in the grave.
    To say that one can be baptized in water and can be figuratively "baptized" by their intellectual or emotional state CONTRADICTS SCRIPTURE, specifically Ephesians 4:5, [There is...] "...one Lord, one faith, one baptism." Apparently, by the time the letter to the Ephesians was written, Holy Spirit baptism had ceased, just as Paul prophesied that it would (I Cor. 13:8-12), and only one form of baptism was preached and thus practiced. The only form of baptism that can be administered today in harmony with biblical teachings is immersion in water.
    As metnioned above, we need first to let scripture interpret scripture. Whenever we see in scripture a reference to baptism, we should ask, "Is this the same word or meaning that Jesus had in mind in Matt. 20:19 when he instructed his disciples to baptize those in all nations?" And, if not, why not? And if not, then what is the intended meaning?
    Again, we must let the Bible speak more for itself instead of trying to tell it what to say. Many scriptures are compromised in order to fit the doctrines of men. When will we unite and let our personal will be "compromised" by the authority of Jesus our Lord?

What If's...

The two responses immediately below are not based on scripture, and as each states, only God knows. He alone is judge. They are based on the premise that God will not require anything that is not possible. In both examples, it was, at some point in their lives, possible for them to be baptized, and the choices that led them to their unfortunate circumstances are their responsibility. So long as there is life and there is water, one should respond to God through baptism to be put into Christ, into His death, for the remission of their sins.

OBJECTION #15: If someone decided to become a Christian, and baptism is necessary, what would happen to them if they died before they could be baptized?
    Response: Only God knows. It is possible that they would not be deprived of eternal life. That being the case, baptism would not be necessary in this kind of circumstance, only because it is not possible. See I Peter 3:21. Provided the person was on his or her way to the water, and not waiting for a special service or more convenient time, it would seem that, based on God's nature He would allow for that. (One wonders, however, why would anyone delay in being obedient and eagerly responding to God's free gift of forgiveness?)
     In one sense, this is similar to young infants and children: it is impossible for them to be truly baptized because they cannot have believe, repent, or confess. Yet infants and toddlers who die young do indeed go to the Lord.Belief must precede baptism (Mk. 16:16). Note also that, in the New Testament, when people are being converted, they are baptized as soon as possible. Again, these people were eager to respond as well as instructed to do so immediately.

OBJECTION #16: What if someone were in the desert or somewhere where water was not readily available?
    Response: Such as an Ethiopian travelling through the dessert like the one mentioned in Acts 8:26-39?
Again, only God knows. If one knows to be baptized, they would do well to find the next best thing to water. Since baptism is a burial, they may offer to God in light of their circumstances an alternative means of burial (ie: being covered with sand, cloth, etc.).
    God may accept this only because water baptism is not possible at the time, but there is no guarantee.
    The scriptures are silent on this, and this is mere speculation offered in an attempt to answer an objection. Once the person finds sufficient water, they should be formally baptized in accordance with the scriptures. (Remember, more than 70% of the earth's surface is water: Seek, and ye shall find. ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE WITH GOD!!!)







written by
Joel Cranford

Copyright © 1997

Permission granted to print in total for class or personal study use and not for resale in part or in total.


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