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Must we be water baptized before we can have eternal life?

Click here for information on the mode, the candidates, and the purposes of water baptism.

This exercise attempts to discover the difference between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and water baptism. Michael Weed and Wendell Willis in "Basic Christian Beliefs, Part 1" (pp. 43-46) find no difference between these two concepts and seek to support the position that water baptism is necessary for salvation. The passages which they use were used as the starting point for the study below.

The procedure is to investigate each passage, discovering if baptism is really the subject, putting each into categories according to conclusive contextual statements, and determining the purpose of baptism in each case according to conclusive contextual statements. It is believed that this type of study is the foundation of theology. Ones particular theology should not first be determined and then supported by proof texts. Since the above authors believe that baptisms prior to the cross function only as background to Christian baptism, the emphasis in this study will be on post-cross baptisms. Not every baptismal passage has been incorporated.


Water Baptism Passages

Matthew 28:19: Humans perform this baptism so it must be water baptism. New Disciples are baptized.

Acts 8:12-17: This is apparently water baptism since it is contrasted with the reception of the Holy Spirit in verses 15-17. Water baptism was administered following belief in verse 12.

Acts 22:16: The verb, "to baptize," appears in this verse in the middle voice. This indicated that Paul was expected to participate in his baptism. The participation is best explained in terms of submitting himself to water baptism since Holy Spirit baptism is usually automatic.

The grammar of the verse allows it to be translated at least two different ways: (1) "Arising, be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name." The "and" between "arising" and "be baptized" which appears in many English versions does not appear in the Greek text. "Arising" and "calling" are participles and in this translation their action is interpreted as happening at the same time as the action of the main verbs, "be baptized" and "wash away." This translation would allow water baptism to be connected with forgiveness of sins if "wash away your sins" is taken as a figure of forgiveness of sins.

(2) "Having arisen, be baptized; and wash away your sins, having called on His name." In this translation, "having called" is interpreted as happening prior to the action of "wash away." The calling is understood to be descriptive of Paul's recognition of Jesus as his Lord in verse 8 and is believed to be his salvation experience. He called on the Lord while traveling to Damascus and was saved--his baptism was delayed until he got to Damascus. "Wash away your sins" is understood to be a definition of the symbology of water baptism, a ceremony which represents the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation through faith in Christ which results in the forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:34).

The ambiguity in translation results from the Greek text's use of aorist participles with aorist finite verbs (see Robertson's grammar, pp. 860-61). Robertson indicates that such a grammatical configuration most often indicates a translation like the one in #2 above.

This verse by itself is too subject to varying translations to be a primary support for any doctrine about water baptism. However, if the second translation is accepted because no passage conclusively teaches salvation by water baptism, it does provide a purpose for the ceremony.

1 Corinthians 1:13-17: Again this must be water baptism since it is performed by humans. Paul did not baptize many because he did not want it to appear that he was baptizing converts in his own name. However, it would be quite reasonable that had water baptism been necessary for salvation, his evangelistic zeal would have compelled him to baptize as many as possible despite the "name" controversy.

Summary: No passage conclusively associates water baptism with salvation. Only Acts 22:16 provides a hint of water baptism's purpose, a witness to the baptism of the Holy Spirit which provides forgiveness of sins at the time of trust in Christ's cross work.

It is helpful to understand how water baptism was perceived by the first readers of the New Testament. The Jews were baptizing persons and things (Mk. 7:4; Heb. 9:10) to make them fit for God's service. Gentiles who converted to the Jewish religion were baptized to show their new allegiance. John the Baptist taught that Jews should be baptized to show their change of attitude with respect to the coming of Christ (Mt. 3:1-12). It would not be improper to suggest that water baptism also symbolizes a change in the candidate's religious attitude.

The Christian should allow himself to be baptized in order to proclaim his conversion to Christianity in a ceremony that visually describes outwardly what the baptism of the Holy Spirit has previously accomplished inwardly.


Holy Spirit Baptism Passages

Acts 2:38: There are several possible interpretations of this verse: (1) The passage means that you must be water baptized in order to receive forgiveness of sins. (2) The word translated "for" can also be translated "because of (see Mt. 12:41 where the same Greek preposition is translated by most versions as "at" agreeing with the possible meaning of "because of" assigned by the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich lexicon, 1957 ed., p. 229)." The verse would then mean that water baptism should follow forgiveness of sins. (3) Since "each" and "baptized" are singular and "repent" and "receive" are plural, then "and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" could be a parenthesis. The verse would mean that repentance results in forgiveness of sins. Water baptism would then accompany repentance but would not be the basis of forgiveness of sins. these first three interpretations understand that water baptism is the subject.

A fourth interpretation understands that Holy Spirit baptism is the subject. (4) If the nation of Israel would repent in accordance with the Gospel preached to the nation by John the Baptist (Mt. 3:2; Mk. 1:4; Lk. 3:3) and by the Messiah (Mt. 4:17) and now by Peter (Ac. 2:14-36), then each citizen would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit along with the accompanying forgiveness of sins and the gifts of the Holy spirit in accordance with the New Covenant (Jer. 3:31-34; Joel 2:28-32). Notice that the reason why they are to be baptized according to Acts 2:39 is to receive the promise off the Holy spirit mentioned in Acts 2:33. Furthermore, Acts 1:5 forecasts that in a few days the disciples would be baptized and Acts 11:15-17 indicated that they were baptized by the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. Thus the passage would teach that the baptism of the Holy spirit is necessary to receive forgiveness of sins and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This interpretation agrees with 1 Cor. 12:13 and best explains the context of Acts 2.

1 Corinthians 12:13: "For by one spirit we are all baptized into one body . . ." The Holy Spirit baptism places us in the universal church, the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). since the universal church is made only of saved people (2 Cor. 5:17) and since it is made of all the saved people (1 Cor. 12:13), it is implied that the Holy spirit baptism which places us in the body is also associated with salvation.

Summary: The passages that definitely speak of Holy Spirit baptism associate it with salvation.


Non-Conclusive Passages

Romans 6:3: Baptism in this verse is associated with Christ's death. Notice the expressions "into Christ Jesus (v. 3)" and "in Christ (v. 11)" which seem to be descriptive of a believer's position in the body of Christ that (as was seen previously) happens at the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In the context (vv. 1-14), the baptism is associated with sanctification. It has freed believers from the necessity of living a sinful life.

1 Corinthians 6:11): The word "baptism" is not used--instead the verse uses "washed." The washing is associated with justification (salvation) that in the conclusive passages is the result of the Holy Spirit baptism.

Ephesians 5:26: Baptism is not mentioned--rather the expression is "washing of water with the Word." The context is sanctification but the means is the Word, not the Holy spirit or water.

Colossians 2:12: The context is similar to Romans 6:3-10 and Epheians 2:5-6. All of these passages speak of the identification we have with Christ which closely resembles the body of Christ and the entrance believers have to it via the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Verse 13 associates burial and death with forgiveness of sins which was the product of Holy Spirit baptism in the conclusive passages.

Titus 3:5: The word, "baptism," is not mentioned. However, there is a "washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy spirit." If this is taken as a reference to Holy Spirit baptism, salvation (regeneration) and progressive santification (renewing) are associated with the baptism as it is in the Holy Spirit passages.

1 Peter 3:21: This verse apparently refers to the baptism of the Holy spirit since it also seems parallel to Romans 6:3. Both passages speak of the believer's participation in Christ's resurrection as the basis of their ability to live godly lives (Rom. 6:4). The phrase "not the removal of dirt from the flesh" would then indicate that physical baptism is not the topic.

The neuter "that" in 1 Peter 3:21 could match the neutar "water" in verse 20 except for the fact that water was the method of judgment in Noah's day, not the method of their salvation. The ark (feminine) saved them by allowing them to float safely "through the water." So the neutar "that" probably refers to the process of Noah and his family being saved by the ark through the water. NASV's translation, "through water," is a more common translation of the Greek than KJV's translation, "by water." Salvation in this verse means deliverance or has reference to the present tense of salvation.


Other Considerations

Other considerations conflict with the doctrine that water baptism is necessary for salvation.

John's Theology: John apparently means for his Gospel to be a complete guide to obtaining eternal life (Jn. 20:30-31) but never mentions water baptism as a condition for eternal life.

Priority of Water Baptism: Water baptism was not a personal priority with great evangelists like Jesus (Jn. 4:2) and Paul (1 Cor. 1:14-17). If water baptism were a condition for salvation, they would have been zealous to personally baptize those who trusted in Christ.

Cornelius: Cornelius received water baptism after he was saved (Ac. 10:44-48).

Weight of Evidence: It has been estimated that there are 150 Biblical references to belief in Christ alone as the only channel to salvation (see Richard A. Seymour, "All About Repentance," pp. 66-67). If baptism were required for salvation, the inspired writers would have mentioned baptism whenever the Gospel was mentioned.



First, none of the references to water baptism necessarily requires that it is a condition to salvation. Other considerations forbid it as a condition. Water baptism is mainly a public proclamation of the recipient's conversion and a symbolic representation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Second, Holy Spirit baptism results in salvation and progressive sanctification.

With one's theology firmly established on conclusive passages of Scripture, he may then apply his theology to the non-conclusive passages in an attempt to understand them. The process should not be reversed.



Books Which Deal with the Question: "What Must I Do to be Saved?"

Chafer, Lewis Sperry. "Salvation, a Clear Doctrinal Analysis." Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1945.

_____. "True Evangelism, Winning Souls by Prayer." Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1919.

Cocoris, G. Michael. "Lordship Salvation, Is It Biblical?" Dallas: Redencịn Viva (Box 141167, Dallas TX 75214), 1983.

Hodges, Zane C. "The Gospel under Siege, a Study on Faith and Works." Dallas: Redencịn Viva, 1981.

_____. "Grace in Eclipse, a Study on Eternal Rewards." Dallas: Redencịn Viva, 1985.

*Seymour, Richard A. "All about Repentance." Hollywood, FL, 1974.

*_____. "The Gift of God." Grace Publishing Co., 1971.


*These books may now be available through Clarity Publications, P. O. Box 737, Fayetteville, GA 30214.

September 30, 2010, Edition -- © 1999-2002 Ken Bowles --

Welcome to the Spiritual Insights Page!The Mode of Water Baptism

Click for information on the necessity of being water baptized in order to have eternal life and the purposes and the candidates for water baptism.

The mode of water baptism is immersion for the following reasons:

  1. Immersion is the primary meaning of the words, baptisma and baptizw, in the New Testament.

  1. Total immersion best carries out the symbology of death and resurrection associated with water baptism:

. . . we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4, NASV).

  1. The New Testament example is immersion:

(36) And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" (37) And Philip said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." (38) And he ordered the chariot to stop and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him. (39) And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:36-39).

  1. "Clear proof for the practice of sprinkling does not appear until the middle ages (Henry Holloman, This I Believe, Christian Baptism, page 3)." See also A. T. Robertson, Baptism, http://baptistpage.com/distinctives/baptism/baptis_robertson.htm. Robertson indicates that ". . . the counsel of Ravenna in 1311 was the first counsel to put sprinkling on a par with immersion."

The most ancient form usually employed was unquestionably immersion. This is not only evident from the writings of the Fathers and the early rituals of both the Latin and Oriental Churches, but it can also be gathered from the Epistles of St. Paul, who speaks of baptism as a bath (Ephes., v, 26; Rom., vi, 4; Tit., iii, 5). In the Latin Church, immersion seems to have prevailed until the twelfth century. After that time it is found in some places even as late as the sixteenth century. Infusion and aspersion, however, were growing common in the thirteenth century and gradually prevailed in the Western Church (William H.W. Fanning, Baptism, Catholic Encyclopedia at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02258b.htm#VI ).

  1. The oldest baptismal manual, dating to 100-160 AD, assumes that baptism is by immersion but it allows pouring if there is insufficient water (J. Murray, Baptism (Baptist View), Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume One, Page 466).

Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" in running water. (2) But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. (3) But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times "in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit (Michael W. Holmes, editor, The Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, The Apostolic Fathers, Greek Texts and English Translations, page 259).

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Welcome to the Spiritual Insights Page! The Candidates for Water Baptism

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  1. The example of the New Testament is that only believers are candidates of baptism:
  1. There is no teaching or example in the New Testament of infants or any nonbeliever being baptized.

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Welcome to the Spiritual Insights Page! The Purposes of Water Baptism

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There are several purposes of water baptism:

  1. To announce a change in the candidate's religious attitude (Matthew 3:1-12):
  1. To set aside the candidate as fit for God's service:
  1. To be a smybol of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit that the candidate has already received:

According to Acts 22:16, once Saul met the Lord on the road to Damascus and trusted in Him, Ananias told Saul that it was appropriate for him to become water baptized to symbolize the forgiveness he received at the time in trusted in Christ.

  1. To be a smybol of death and resurrection:

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

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