Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation
Many Christians believe that baptism must be performed before a believer can be saved. In
other words, they believe that if you have not been baptized, you are not saved. This doctrine is referred to as baptismal regeneration. Is baptismal regeneration biblical? Does the Bible teach that you must be baptized in order to be saved? No, but baptism is something that God commands of a new believer. In this article we will refute the idea that you must be baptized in order to be saved.
The Jerusalem council never mentioned baptism as necessary
If baptism was necessary for salvation, and that God would send to hell, believers who had not been baptized, we should expect this doctrine to be taught in very plain and clear language. We should also expect to see this doctrine in many places throughout God’s word. What we find is exactly the opposite.
In Acts 15:1-29 we read an account of how the early church dealt with a disagreement about circumcision. Some believing Pharisees were teaching that a believer was not saved unless they had been circumcised. The similarities to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration cannot be denied. These Pharisees believed that if a believer was not circumcised, he or she could not be saved. This would have been a perfect time for the Apostles to clearly state that baptism was necessary for salvation. Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem to speak with the rest of the Apostles about this teaching.
During this debate Peter stood up and retold the story of how he had traveled to the home of a gentile named Cornelius and shared the gospel with his household (Acts 10:44-47). After they had heard the words and believed, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke in tongues. We know from Eph 1:13-14 that the Holy Spirit is only given to believers who have been justified. In other words, Peter’s whole point was that God had saved Cornelius and his household and they had not been circumcised. If you read the account of this event in Acts 10:44-47 you find out that Cornelius and his household hadn’t been baptized yet either. Again, Peter’s whole point was that he had witnessed God save Cornelius and his household and he knew they had been saved because the Holy Spirit had come upon them. We can just as easily conclude that since they had received the Holy Spirit before their baptism, baptism is also not necessary to salvation.
After much debate the council came to the conclusion that circumcision was not necessary for new believers. If God intended baptism to be necessary for salvation, this would have been the perfect time to bring up the topic. Baptism wasn’t even mentioned. Rather, they decided that new believers should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, blood, strangled animals and from fornication.
The Thief on the Cross
Another point that is often brought up in opposition to baptismal regeneration is the fact that the man on the cross next to Jesus was never baptized. Jesus tells him in Luke 23:43 that “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” In other words, this man was allowed entrance into paradise without being baptized. All he did was placed his faith in Jesus Christ.
Proponents of baptismal regeneration have argued that the thief on the cross does not count as an example of someone who had not been baptized. They point out that baptism was not necessary until after the death of Christ. What they fail to consider is that Jesus most likely died before the thief on the cross. When the Roman soldier went to break the legs of those who had been crucified, he found that Jesus was already dead.
Paul downplays baptism
If baptism is necessary for salvation, why does Paul seem to downplay the importance of baptism?
1 Corinthians 1:14-17 “I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; (15) Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. (16) And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. (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.”
There is not one single scripture that says baptism must precede salvation
If believers needed to be baptized in order to be saved, why aren’t there some verses that clearly say that? We should expect multiple clear and plain scriptures that say that baptism is necessary for salvation.
We see that there are no plain and clear scriptures that say believers must be baptized in order to be saved. If our salvation hinged on whether we were baptized, we should expect many clear scriptures teaching that baptism is necessary. We also see that Cornelius and his household were saved before they had been baptized. Similarly, the man on the cross next to Jesus was allowed into paradise and was not baptized. Lastly, Paul seems to downplay the importance of baptism in his first letter to the Corinthians. It’s clear that baptism is not necessary for salvation. It’s also clear from the scriptures that if you are saved you should get baptized.