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Is Water Baptism Essential?

In light of the fact that Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16); that Peter wrote, “Which after a true likeness do also now save you, even baptism” (1 Pet. 3:21); and, that Ananais commanded Paul, “And now why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins” (Acts 22:16), it should not be necessary to ask the question, “Is water baptism essential to salvation?” Yet it is necessary because many question the essentiality of water baptism and multitudes more deny it. Our purpose in these articles is to answer objections to baptism and to defend what the scriptures say about it. From the very outset let it be perfectly clear that when we affirm that water baptism is essential to salvation, we are not affirming that man is saved by water baptism only, nor or we denying man is saved by faith. “Salvation by faith” and “salvation by faith alone” are not synonymous. One is true: “we are saved by faith.” The other is false: “we are saved by faith alone.” The devils believe and tremble yet they are not saved (James 2:19). The Bible teaches we are saved by faith. It also teaches we are not saved by faith alone (James 2:24).

Let us consider the objection to water baptism being essential to salvation by the argument that in the Bible’s golden text water baptism is not mentioned at all. That verse reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him might not perish but might have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). Many, in quoting this verse, say, “John 3:16 tells us that whoever believes in Christ shall not perish. Not one word is mentioned about water baptism. Therefore, water baptism is not essential to salvation.” By the same argument, one could “prove” that faith doesn’t save. Paul was told by Ananias, “Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins” (Acts 22:16). In this verse not one word is mentioned about faith. If because Jesus did not mention baptism in John 3:16 means that baptism is not essential to salvation, by that same sort of reasoning the fact that Ananias does not mention one word about faith in Acts 22:16 means that faith is not essential to salvation. Were one to so reason on Acts 22:16 he would be wrong; and when one so reasons on John 3:16 his reasoning also would be wrong. The truth is that failure to mention an item does not mean that item is not necessary. Illustration: Does John 3:16 mention repentance being essential to salvation? It does not. It doesn’t even mention repentance. Yet, is repentance essential to salvation? Certainly it is (Lk. 13:3; 2 Peter 3:9). Everyone understands this. So if one understands that although John 3:16 does not mention “repentance,” repentance is still essential to salvation because the Bible says it is; he should, for the same reason, understand baptism is essential to salvation because the Bible says it is.

There is a Bible principle involved here that all must understand, a principle stated in Psalm 119:160: “The sum of their word is truth.” God does not have to say more than once that a thing is true. Once is enough. This principle is demonstrated over and over again in the four accounts of the life of Christ. One of the few miracles that Jesus worked that all the gospels record is the feeding of the 5,000 (Mt. 14:14-33; Mk. 6:37-52; Lk. 9:10-17; Jn. 6:5-21). All four give the basis details of the multitude and the specific number of loaves and fish Jesus blessed. Three additionally reveal that in the night after that great miracle, Jesus was left alone and the disciples got into a boat to cross to the other side of the sea of Galilee. A storm arose and Jesus determined to cross the sea, doing so by literally walking on the water. The disciples were frightened when they saw Him but He calmed their spirits by telling them it was He. Peter asked Jesus if he could come to Him on the water and the Lord invited him to. Peter began to walk on the water, but seeing the storm began to sink and the Lord saved him. Four accounts tell about the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Three of them record the storm on the sea. Only one of them (Matthew) told about Peter’s walking on water. Does the fact that only Matthew records this event mean that it didn’t happen because the other two mentioned nothing about it? Who would so argue? No one would deny that baptism is not mention in John 3:16 but who is willing to deny that Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16)?

Jim McDonald

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