21

I have heard many Protestants say that "baptism is not necessary for salvation". They follow Paul I guess, who says all works including Baptism or circumcision are optional. But having read the following I am not sure how Protestants justify not doing baptism.

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.
John 3:5

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

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,
Titus 3:5

Great commission was given to baptise disciples in all the nations:

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,
Matthew 28:19

Many Church Fathers affirmed the necessity of baptism for salvation:

Origen:

"It is not possible to receive forgiveness of sins without baptism" (Exhortation to the Martyrs 30 [A.D. 235]).

Hermas:

"‘I have heard, sir,’ said I [to the Shepherd], ‘from some teacher, that there is no other repentance except that which took place when we went down into the water and obtained the remission of our former sins.’ He said to me, ‘You have heard rightly, for so it is’" (The Shepherd 4:3:1–2 [A.D. 80]).

Tertullian:

"Without baptism, salvation is attainable by none" (Baptism 1 [A.D. 203])

Hippolytus:

"Perhaps someone will ask, ‘What does it conduce unto piety to be baptized?’ In the first place, that you may do what has seemed good to God; in the next place, being born again by water unto God so that you change your first birth, which was from concupiscence, and are able to attain salvation, which would otherwise be impossible. For thus the [prophet] has sworn to us: ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you are born again with living water, into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ Therefore, fly to the water, for this alone can extinguish the fire. He who will not come to the water still carries around with him the spirit of insanity for the sake of which he will not come to the living water for his own salvation" (Homilies11:26 [A.D. 217]).

Even Martin Luther affirmed the necessity of Baptism

"Baptism is no human plaything but is instituted by God himself. Moreover, it is solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved. We are not to regard it as an indifferent matter, then, like putting on a new red coat. It is of the greatest importance that we regard baptism as excellent, glorious, and exalted."
Large Catechism 4:6

So it baffles me how many Protestants teach that it is not necessary for salvation. How would they address the above? What is their biblical basis for this belief?

It seems to me that many people accept the free gift of Jesus on the cross because they do not want to go to hell. Even though they may have some doubts, they choose to believe and become Christians because the stakes are so high. Protestants exhort them not to trust in universalism but in fact repent of their sins and ask for forgiveness in order to get saved. Similarly, then, wouldn't the same arguments apply to baptism? Where is the difference? The same Church fathers and universal traditions in the first few centuries they use to establish the trustworthiness of the books in their canon also affirms the necessity of baptism. And yet they confidently tell people it's totally optional?

  • The question should probably be reworded to "Why do some protestants teach the non-necessity of baptism?" There are lots of non-Catholic Christians (myself included) who do believe it is necessary, largely based on the passages that you mention, in addition to the fact that there is not a single Biblical example of someone being saved after the death and resurrection of Jesus without being baptized. The thief on the cross is often erroneously cited, but the Mosaic law was still in effect at the time of his death, not the law the New Testament. – reirab Feb 1 '15 at 6:37
  • 1
    I have edited this a bit. I changed the wording a bit to hopefully curb bad answers and bring it into site guidelines. I also formatted the links and made the bible links uniform to bible gateway. I suspect you were on a mobile because all your bible links were mobile sites. – 3961 Feb 1 '15 at 20:35
  • Paul never says anything against baptism. When he talks against works (e.g. Romans), it's always in a context where works refer to obligations of Mosaic law. Baptism is not an obligation of Mosaic law. – King David Mar 17 '15 at 3:13
  • John 3:5 is troubling, cause Paul doesn't outweigh Jesus, obviously. However, birth of water might mean by a woman who breaks her water in child birth. This would be logical meaning, and go with the text in verse 6 as well as the conversation in general with Nicodemus. I think adding John 3:5 as a proof of water baptism is incorrect here. – Adam Heeg Feb 15 '18 at 22:44
  • Well, @AdamHeeg in that case everyone would be "born of water" and this clause wouldn't mean anything, even though Jesus clearly is using it to limit the description of people who are getting into the Kingdom of God. – Gregory Magarshak Feb 18 '18 at 19:54
15

Why do Protestants teach the non-necessity of baptism for salvation?

Those who see baptism as something additional to salvation might use the following verses;

Luke 23:43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

The thief on the cross was not baptized.

1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

Paul did baptize a few but was not sent to baptize which would indicate that the act was peripheral to salvation.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Baptism can be considered a "work" (something a person does) and therefore inconsistent with salvation by faith.

Acts 16:30-31 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Although baptism can follow quickly, the actual process of salvation is never cited as requiring baptism.

The often cited verses used to favor baptism can also be seen in a different light.

John 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

When Jesus talks to Nicodemus, the context is physical human birth and spiritual (born again) birth, the "water" and the spirit.

Acts 22:16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

Ananias came and restored to Paul his sight. He then told him the purpose Jesus had for him. He then summarized for Paul that he should be baptized, wash away his sins, and call on the name of the Lord. This is not necessarily a description of a salvation process.

Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

The "washing" here is the baptism (immersion) in the Holy Spirit that happens when a person is saved.

Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

This "commission" was given to the disciples in anticipation of the Kingdom activities expected of the nation of Israel. If it were a universal activity, Paul would have been instructed to include it in his apostleship to the gentiles. In any event, it is still not described as an integral part of the salvation process.

Many find the views of church "fathers" to be compelling, however as far as the Bible goes, it is difficult to find any specific instruction of baptism as essential for salvation.

  • 2
    If you're looking at proof texts, don't forget Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Gal 3:27, Eph 4:1-6, 1Pet3:20b-21, Rom 6:3-6. Also, if Baptism is a work, so is the sinner's prayer, which has far less support in scripture. – Joel Coehoorn Feb 1 '15 at 19:38
  • "Although baptism can follow quickly, the actual process of salvation is never cited as requiring baptism." Actually it is. Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, etc. – reirab Feb 2 '15 at 3:01
  • Also, the thief on the cross is a moot point because he died under the Mosaic law. He was never a Christian at all, but, rather, a Jew. Jesus had neither died nor resurrected at the time of their conversation (obviously) and had not resurrected until well after the thief's death, so the Mosaic law was still very much in effect at the time. Additionally, Jesus personally forgave the thief's sins, which I think we can all agree overrides either law. – reirab Feb 2 '15 at 3:10
  • "It's difficult to find any specific instruction" if you choose to reason away all the specific instructions you do find, and to find irrelevant contradictions (e.g. the thief on the cross — was Jesus supposed to take the thief off the cross and baptize him? Really?) – Brian Hitchcock Mar 30 '15 at 3:38
  • "it is difficult to find any specific instructions of baptism as essential for salvation" seriously? You must not have looked very hard. Have you ever noticed 1 Peter 3:21 where it explicitly states that baptism saves you? – TheIronKnuckle Jan 20 '17 at 17:57
14

Let me state the views of those who believe baptism is not necessary for salvation. (It's not just Protestants by the way - Catholics teach that actual physical baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation. There are several circumstances where substitutes for it are acceptable).

  • "Born of water" might mean several things other than baptism. It might mean cleansing from sins, for example.
  • The Acts and Matthew passages are indeed commanding baptism. But that doesn't mean that a failure to do so results in loss of salvation. We all fail to carry out the commands of Jesus at one time or another - that's what sin is, and Jesus forgives us for it.
  • The washing of rebirth is not necessarily baptism. Rebirth cleanses us from sins, and in that sense is a washing. The rebirth may or may not happen at the same time as baptism
  • Hermas says (in paraphrase) "the remission you received through baptism is the only one". But that doesn't mean baptism is the only way to receive it. I could say "The brand of juice you bought at the corner store is the only one with real oranges in", but that doesn't mean I can only buy it at the corner store.
  • Luther, Origen, Hippolytus and Tertullian are not God, and are not infallible. What they write is their own opinions. If a Christian chooses to have a different opinion, that's entirely up to them.

It should be said that Christians who say that baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation don't deny the importance of baptism, or that it is a command from God, or that everyone should be baptized. They would just say that God is capable of forgiving whoever he wants to forgive, and isn't restricted by any rules.

  • Thank you for writing this answer that addresses what I wrote in the question. I amended it to also include some quotes by Church Fathers not just Martin Luther, so if you want to address that too, definitely edit your answer. But I think your answer is doctrinally sound. What do those who consider baptism not necessary for salvation, consider essential to be saved? – Gregory Magarshak Feb 1 '15 at 4:43
  • @DJ Clayworth: Catholicism teaches that baptism in water is certainly necessary for salvation. In fact, it's the first step in becoming a Catholic (after the catechesis, of course). – user900 Feb 1 '15 at 7:36
  • 1
    But, while it is necessary, we do believe that God can save someone without the sacraments (like the thief on the cross), for "Non defectus, sed contemptus sacramenti damnat." - Not the lack (or deficiency), but rather, the contempt of the sacrament damns (or condemns)." – user900 Feb 1 '15 at 7:46
  • 1
    @H3br3wHamm3r81 Those exceptions are exactly the cases I am talking about. If there are cases where salvation can be obtained without baptism, then baptism is not absolutely necessary. Baptism of Desire covers a significant number of exceptions. – DJClayworth Feb 1 '15 at 17:52
  • Right. I agree with you. It is not absolutely necessary, as in, if you die without baptism, you don't automatically go to Geihinnam. However, you should include the Catholic belief that it is not lack of baptism, but the contempt of baptism that damns/condemns. – user900 Feb 1 '15 at 17:56
10

Credo-baptists (note: not all Protestants) that hold the views you refer to, rely more on very clear soteriological proof texts that are not as open to alternative interpretations* as the verses you have cited such as:

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.- Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

Baptism is something we do - a work, albeit a good one. Verse 9 quoted above would therefore exclude it from being a prerequisite for salvation, verse 10 implies that it should be a consequence of salvation. So the normal pattern is for sinners to respond to the gospel and receive grace through faith to be regenerated inwardly, they would then witness this inward transformation to the world through the rite of baptism. However, if there are extenuating circumstances - eg, they hear the gospel and believe it, but die before they can receive baptism despite their intention to do so - then the normal pattern can indeed be varied:

  • A relevant counter-example to the idea that baptism is necessary to salvation, is the thief on the cross (cf. Luke 23:39-43): Jesus' promise to him that he would be in paradise was despite the impossibility of him undergoing baptism. The dispensationalist argument that this example is not relevant because it occurred prior to the resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit is specious - this man was the first believer to trust in the crucified Christ for salvation.

  • Another case in point is Cornelius and the members of his household (cf. Acts 10:44-48) - clearly they received God's grace for salvation before they were baptized (in water) as it was only thought of once they were already manifesting the outpoured Holy Spirit.

Baptism is regarded by credo-baptists as an outward sign signifying an inward work - it is not the sign that has substance, but that which it signifies. An analogous question is "Is it necessary to have a wedding ceremony in order to be married?" Even though in the normal course of events, a wedding ceremony is preferable, it is not strictly necessary. Yes, it does remain a very useful sign of the something of greater substance that it is signifying; nevertheless, if circumstances demand, an elaborate wedding ceremony can be eschewed as long as the substantive elements of marrying are observed.

Note: even though Baptism may be regarded as not absolutely necessary for salvation itself, there are excellent reasons for getting baptized and a decision to delay or entirely forego the rite should not be undertaken lightly - in this sense, to characterize baptism as 'totally optional' is misleading and should be regarded as false doctrine (incidentally, you mischaracterize Paul if you think he is saying baptism is 'optional').


*All the verses you cite are ambiguous to some degree as there are at least six distinct types of baptism referred to in Scripture. Additionally, there is a 'washing with water through the word' referred to in Ephesians 5:26 that appears to be a distinct process to any of those kinds of baptism. The church fathers and Luther are more explicit, but Credo-baptists think they have erred on this point and have no hesitation in contradicting them when they are sure of their own ground.

  • If baptism is a work, so is the sinner's prayer. – Joel Coehoorn Feb 1 '15 at 20:47
  • 2
    @JoelCoehoorn: The sinner's prayer is also just an outward sign of the change of heart that precedes it. Nor is any particular prayer verbiage either necessary or sufficient for salvation. – Ben Voigt Feb 2 '15 at 0:01
  • So what is necessary for salvation? Why wouldn't a Christian want to do it all just in case? – Gregory Magarshak Feb 2 '15 at 2:00
  • @JoelCoehoorn agreed - reciting the sinner's prayer is not what saves you, and it should not be regarded as strictly necessary for salvation. – bruised reed Feb 2 '15 at 2:18
  • @GregoryMagarshak "So what is necessary for salvation? " - Repentance and faith to receive salvation by God's grace. Baptism is definitely a sign for these, but it is neither a sufficient sign nor a strictly necessary one. "Why wouldn't a Christian want to do it all just in case?" - a Christian should want to get baptized, but there may be significant constraints against it (eg they may live in a culture where getting baptized will lead to them being ostracized or killed; they may not yet be old enough to have count the cost of discipleship etc). – bruised reed Feb 2 '15 at 2:39
1

In Acts 8, we have the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch and Philip. Philip explains Isaiah to the Eunuch, then the good news about Jesus.

And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”[b] 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.

The feature that is emphasized is the Eunuch's humility, enthusiasm and obedient faith. I believe that viewing Baptism through the lens of a required ritual robs it of its intended purpose: freedom. Baptism is about freedom, not rituals and laws.

I once invited a friend to attend my church. After a month or so, and after hearing that she had prayed the sinner's prayer with the pastor, I prayed silently that she would desire to be baptized. I said nothing to her, not wanting it to be an added burden or regulation on top of her salvation. A few days later, she declared her desire to be baptized. That fall, the appointed day arrived, but she had to be hospitalized for a severe migraine, and could not be baptized. In her case, something did prevent her from being baptized on that day, unlike the Eunuch. A week later, her baptism was rescheduled. Upon entering the water, she later said, she felt something come out of her. It later turned out that at the moment of her baptism, she was delivered from what had been years of chronic migraines.

Baptism is not a requirement, a rule to be followed. It is a gift, and the already saved person eagerly runs to receive that gift and the freedom that accompanies it.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.