SALVIFIC BELIEFS: Salvation by Grace Alone through Faith Alone

SALVIFIC BELIEFS: Salvation by Grace Alone through Faith Alone

© 2018, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

[N.B. READ THE FOOTNOTES, FOLKS. THEY ARE IMPORTANT!]

The two most important questions everyone must answer, most important because their eternal destiny depends on them, are both found in the Bible.  One is in Matthew 16:15/Mark 8:29/Luke 9:20, where Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” and the other is the one asked by the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30, “What must I do to be saved?”  Upon accepting the correct answer to these two questions does each person’s eternal destiny depend.

The answer Paul and Silas give to the Philippian jailer is simple and clear:

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved …”

Πίστευσον ἐπὶ τὸν κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν (Acts 16:31a)

It is not simply general information being given to the jailer; the Greek uses the imperative mood, calling upon the man to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and the result of that will be his salvation.[1]

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved: that is salvation sola fide,[2] “by faith alone,” with nothing else needed.  Now, every professing Christian avows that faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation, but is it enough?  Even in New Testament times, there were those who insisted that faith was not enough, but that something else was also needed: the “false brethren” in Galatia were teaching that circumcision was necessary for salvation (Galatians 2:4-5, 6:12-13).  The Church of Christ believes that one is saved “by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel; viz. : Faith in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ; Repentance and Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.[3]  And according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Vatican’s authoritative statement of Roman Catholic doctrines,

The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.[4]

Are these just harmless add-ons, or by denying sola fide are they actually denying the Gospel?  The answer to this obviously of crucial importance, and we could find the answer by examining the case for each add-on.  However, there is potentially no end of possible add-ons and one could spend a great deal of time assessing each one and then finding more being proposed.  The easiest and surest way to answer this question, since all of these add-ons are claimed to be things we must do to be saved, is to see what answer the Bible gives to its own question “What must I do to be saved?”  Every claimed add-on must be judged in light of the Bible’s own answer to this question.

Some Points of Exegesis and Hermeneutics

All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), and none of it is simply a person’s own interpretation of matters (2 Peter 1:20-21).  Furthermore, we are told that “The entirety of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160a), which means that every part of it is true and it cannot contradict itself.[5]  Therefore, any true doctrine must accord with all that Scripture says on that particular issue.

This means that proper hermeneutics requires that one examine all relevant passages on a matter and study them all before one formulates his doctrine on that matter.  There is no shortage of erroneous teachings that arise because one looked at one or two verses only and created his doctrine based on those, rather than looking at the “whole counsel of God”; that is the way to “twist Scripture to one’s own destruction” (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16).

Furthermore, one must not only consider all of the relevant passages on a topic, he must properly exegete each one, taking into account the vocabulary used, the syntactical construction, the context, and the genre.  Regarding the latter, it is particularly important to note whether this is a didactic statement (in which case it is authoritative towards us) or simply an historical record of something said and done by someone, which, unless it was done by Jesus, was done by fallible men and is not authoritative;[6] it is the former, not the latter, that is the basis for doctrine.

He must also consider whether the passage is univocal or whether there is room for more than one possible meaning,[7] and he must consider the scope of the passage and not go beyond what is actually said.[8]  In addition, he must distinguish between propositions and mere inferences.[9]  And, of course, one must follow the axioms and rules of logic.  With regard to these, he must avoid the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy, assuming that because Act A took place before Act B, that means it caused Act B, or that since Act A and B came together, they were mutually dependent.[10]  Finally, when one does this proper exegesis, he may find that some passages are more significant than others (e.g. their scope may be larger).

When one has done this exegesis, he is then ready to formulate his doctrine, and it must align with what is taught by all of the relevant passages.[11]  If there is one passage (or a few) that seem discordant, the initial presumption must be given to what is said by the large majority of passages, and the discordant ones must be examined to see whether they can be understood (without violating proper exegesis) in such a way as to align with the majority of passages.  If they cannot, if there are two univocal statements that are irreconcilable, that would constitute an actual contradiction, which would be highly problematic.[12]  To date, I have not found any genuine contradictions, nor do I believe there to be any.

With this in view, let us proceed to examine how the Bible answers the question, “What must I do to be saved?”  Then we will consider whether there are any discordant verses that seem to contradict this answer.

What Must I Do to Be Saved? An Exegetical Examination

The interaction of Paul and Silas with the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30-31 is of particular importance to the question of what one must do to be saved, as it is the one place in the NT following the institution of the New Covenant that the question is explicitly asked.[13] We have seen the answer given to him by Paul and Silas:

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved …”

They did not mention anything other than faith, and, in view of the fact that the Philippian jailer obviously wanted to be saved, we should expect that Paul and Silas would have told him everything he needed to do.  Therefore, if anything else besides faith were needed, we should expect that Paul and Silas would certainly have mentioned it – and they did not.  Their answer was simple but comprehensive: “Sola fide.

Is this what we see elsewhere, though? Indeed it is.  Jesus’ earliest (chronologically) recorded comment on this matter is found in His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, wherein He says,

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that everyone believing in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For thus God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone believing in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. The one believing in Him is not condemned; but the one not believing is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:14-18)

Here, too, the only requirement is faith. And, while this is Jesus’ first comment on the matter, we have already been told earlier in this book[14] that “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to the ones believing in His name” (John 1:12).  Here, too, only faith is required.

And again, in John 3:36a

The one believing in the Son has everlasting life.

In John 6:28-29, people ask what works they should do, to “work the works of God,” and Jesus responds with only one work:

“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:29b)

John 6:40

“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone seeing the Son and believing in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

John 6:47

“Most assuredly, I say to you, the one believing in Me has everlasting life.”

This is only a small sample, and all teach that anyone believing in Him is saved, which makes salvation sola fide, with no mention of anything else being required, so if anything else were required, these passages would teach falsely.  And this runs through the entire New Testament e.g. Acts 10:43, 13:39; Romans 10:9-12; Ephesians 1:13, 2:8-9; 1 John 5:13.

In Romans 3:20-5:2, Paul gives a lengthy discourse on salvation being by faith and not by any sort of work; neither baptism nor any other requirement is mentioned anywhere.  All that is required is faith.  And of particular importance is Paul’s response to the “false brethren” in Galatia, who claimed that circumcision was necessary for salvation.  Paul answered:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of law, or by the hearing of faith? — just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that the ones of faith, these are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” Therefore the ones who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. (Galatians 3:1-9)

Notice that Paul does not even mention circumcision per se but points out that faith is the only thing required to be saved.  There is no role for “works of law,” and, significantly, Paul does not say “the law,” which would be the Mosaic Law, but “works of law,” which could apply to any customs or traditions.  It is not, then, that the “false brethren” are requiring circumcision but that they are requiring something in addition to faith – and Paul says nothing else is needed.[15]

Perhaps the crucial passage, and it is certainly decisive, is John 3:14-18, to which we now return:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that everyone believing in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For thus God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone believing in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. The one believing in Him is not condemned; but the one not believing is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:14-18)

As the logical axiom called the Law of the Excluded Middle states, a proposition and its negation represent the sum total of possibilities.  “Table” and “chair” do not exhaust all possibilities, but “table” and “not-table” do, for everything that is “table” necessarily fits into the first category and everything that does not fit into the first category fits into the second.

In this passage, Jesus states the eternal destiny of the “believing” and the “not-believing,” which necessarily covers all people, and He tells us that the “believing” will not perish and will not be condemned but will have everlasting life, i.e. he will be saved, and that necessarily means that faith is the only requirement for salvation.

For if one believes and is circumcised, to which category does he belong?  The first, which means he is saved. If he believes but is not circumcised, to which category does he belong?  Still the first, since he believes, so he is still saved, which means circumcision cannot be necessary for salvation.

If one believes and does good works, to which category does he belong?  The first, which means he is saved.  If he believes but does not do good works, to which category does he belong?  Still the first, since he believes, so he is still saved, which means good works cannot be necessary for salvation.

If one believes and is baptised, to which category does he belong?  The first, which means he is saved. If he believes but is not baptised, to which category does he belong?  Still the first, since he believes, so he is still saved, which means baptism cannot be necessary for salvation.

The sum of Biblical teaching – and particularly John 3:14-18 – make it indisputable that faith is the only requirement for salvation; there are no other requirements. Q.E.D.

Are There Verses That Require Baptism for Salvation?

In light of what we have seen in the previous section, it would be highly problematic if there were passages in the Bible that taught the necessity of baptism for salvation. Jesus Himself promised that anyone who believes in Him will be saved.  Now, there are certainly people who do believe but have not been baptised, so if baptism were necessary for salvation, these people would not be saved, but Jesus said they are saved.

Two points have to be addressed before we do this.

First, in the New Testament the word “salvation” (σωτηρία) and its verb form usually refer to salvation from sin and the concomitant inheritance of eternal life, but not always.  Sometimes it refers to deliverance from some sort of physical threat (e.g. Luke 1:71; Acts 27:31, 34; Hebrews 11:7).  Therefore, when exegeting a passage in which this word appears, it is necessary to determine which way it is being used.

Second, there are at least four different forms of “baptism” in the New Testament.  Two of them are specified by John the Baptist:

“I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8; See also Matthew 3:11,[16] Luke 3:16)

There is a water baptism, and there is the baptism that Jesus does, which is the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Third, baptism is also used by Jesus in a symbolic way, to refer to His own death on the cross (Mark 10:37-39 cf. Matthew 20:21-23; Luke 12:49-50).[17]

Fourth, baptism is also used symbolically in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5:

Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Therefore, as we must do with “salvation,” we must determine in which of these attested ways “baptism” is used in each passage.  Let us now move on to examine the verses that are proffered as teaching the necessity of baptism for salvation.

Mark 1:4-5

“John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.”

Some claim that John was preaching a baptism of repentance, which meant they confessed their sins and were baptized to be saved.  This is obviously wrong; if confessing their sins and being baptized in water by John remitted sins, there would be no need for Christ or His sacrifice at all.

A more careful examination reveals a different picture. John’s ministry was two-fold.  He was to prepare the way for the coming Messiah (Mark 1:2), turning many of the people to the Lord their God and making them ready for the coming of the Messiah, and this he did by raising awareness of sin and judgment and the use of water baptism.  He was also to preach the coming Messiah and point people to Him (John 1:6-8, 15, 36).  In fact, if we continue reading from the adduced passage, we see this:

John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:4-8)

Considering, then, that John’s water baptism was not efficacious for forgiveness and that He was preaching of the coming Messiah, clearly the “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” he was preaching was not his own water baptism, but the baptism by the Messiah with the Holy Spirit.  Thus, there is nothing in this passage that makes water baptism necessary for salvation.

Mark 16:15-16a

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved …’”

Again, we need to continue reading the passage, which says,

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.’”

So the mistake committed here by those who claim water baptism is necessary for salvation is the fallacy of Denying the Antecedent; since those who believe and are baptized are saved, they mistakenly assume that those who do not believe and those who are not baptized are condemned.  Yet Jesus only says that those who do not believe are condemned; He does not say that whose who are not baptised are condemned.  Thus, this passage aligns properly with the doctrine of sola fide, which certainly does affirm that “he who believes and is baptized will be saved” – because he believes, which is the necessary condition.

Acts 2:38

“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

Πέτρος δὲ ἔφη πρὸς αὐτούς Μετανοήσατε καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν καὶ λήψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος

Some claim that here Peter is telling people to both repent and be baptized to get saved, and that we know this because Peter is supposed to be saying that one gets the Holy Spirit only when baptised, and it is receiving the Holy Spirit that is proof of our salvation.

This, too, is an error, based on faulty exegesis of the text.  The assumption is that where the text says “for the remission of sins” it means “in order to get the remission of sins,” i.e., that the εἰς in εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν (“for the remission of sins”) is an accusative of purpose.  However, it could equally be an accusative of result,[18] in which case it would mean not “in order to get the remission of sins” but “because of the remission of sins.”  The same obtains in English: If we say, “Beagle Boy wanted for armed robbery,” we do not mean we want him in order to commit an armed robbery but because he has committed an armed robbery.

Now, since the passage can equally be taken either way, it cannot be used to support either side, and so it cannot be used to contradict John 3:16-18 and all of the other passages that teach sola fideAnd as for the claim that one gets the Holy Spirit only when baptised, that is clearly incorrect, as we can see in Acts 10:43-47, as Peter is finishing preaching the Gospel to Cornelius and his relatives and close friends:

“To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

Here, beyond any doubt those who received the Gospel received the Holy Spirit in the same way as Peter and before being baptized.  So any attempt to claim that it is necessary to be baptized to receive the Holy Spirit (and to be saved) is thereby forever and utterly disproven.  And we can also notice Peter’s message:

“To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”

Here, too, is no mention of baptism made, but a clear proclamation of sola fide: “whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins,” and if baptism were necessary for salvation, this statement would not be true.

Acts 19:4-6

“Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.”

It is difficult to see how this can be adduced as support for the idea that baptism is necessary for reception of the Holy Spirit.  Once again, we need to look at the entire passage:

And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:1-6)

We see immediately that these people were not actually Christian believers, but were disciples of John the Baptist, and Paul had to bring them to the Gospel.  And, indeed, they received the Holy Spirit after being baptized, and also after Paul laid hands on them; in fact, if there were an efficient cause of receiving the Holy Spirit in this case, it would be the latter, not the former.  But these were both simply attendant circumstances, as we have already seen Cornelius and those with him receiving the Holy Spirit before being baptized (Acts 10:44-48), which means baptism cannot be necessary for salvation.

We should also notice Paul’s initial question to them:

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

He did not ask, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you were baptised?” but “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”  Paul’s expectation is that the Holy Spirit comes upon a person when he believes, not when he is baptised, showing yet again that baptism is not necessary for salvation.

Acts 22:16

“‘And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’”

καὶ νῦν τί μέλλεις ἀναστὰς βάπτισαι καὶ ἀπόλουσαι τὰς ἁμαρτίας σου ἐπικαλεσάμενος τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ Κυρίου

Immediately we note that this is not a didactic statement; it is Paul’s statement of what Ananias told him, and, as we have discussed earlier, Ananias could have expressed this incorrectly.  And it is difficult to deny that he made a mistake, for he told Paul to wash away his sins, and not even those who claim that baptism is necessary for salvation believe that we can wash away our own sins.

Furthermore, a careful look at the Greek puts a different possible meaning on what Ananias said.  The word ἐπικαλεσάμενος is a participle, and participles fulfill specific functions in sentences.[19]  If, as seems reasonable, ἐπικαλεσάμενος is acting as an instrumental participle[20] in this sentence, it can be translated as, “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins by calling on the name of the Lord,” which would accord well with Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13.

Either of these are viable hermeneutical options, and neither contradicts Jesus’ clear and repeated teachings of salvation sola fide.

Romans 6:3-8

“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him …”

While the meaning of this passage is quite plain, the crucial question is whether the baptism about which Paul is herein speaking is water baptism or the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” cf. Mark 1:8:

I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

ἐγὼ μὲν ἐβάπτισα ὑμᾶς ἐν ὕδατι αὐτὸς δὲ βαπτίσει ὑμᾶς ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ

Which of these baptisms is the one by which we “were baptized into Christ Jesus,” which is the one in view in this passage?  Which is the baptism that makes us Christians?  We find the answer in 1 Corinthians 12:13:

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

So what is in view in Romans 6:3-8 is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, not water baptism.[21]

Colossians 2:12

“… buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”

Interestingly, even those who claim that baptism is necessary for salvation admit that baptism is symbolic in this passage; we are not actually buried in a tomb with Christ (nor could we be, in light of the fact that Jesus left His tomb almost 2,000 years ago).  And here, too, it is necessary to look at more of the passage:

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:11-14)

As we see, both circumcision and baptism are used in this passage, in symbolic senses, so anyone who argues that this passage teaches the necessity of an actual water baptism must also hold that it teaches the necessity of an actual physical circumcision.  Any takers?  Of course not; both circumcision and baptism are used symbolically here.

1 Peter 3:21

“There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

According to those who claim that water baptism is necessary for salvation, this passage is proclaimed to be the inescapable “clobber verse” that proves this necessity and cannot be explained away.  However, given the fact that all of other verses adduced by those advocates have utterly failed to prove the idea that water baptism is necessary for salvation, we might expect them to be more hesitant about asserting that there is a verse that inescapably proves that Jesus was not speaking the truth in John 3:16-18, and that the entire rest of the New Testament is wrong about sola fide.

Now, at first glance this passage may indeed seem to support the idea that water baptism is needed, but in the absence of a qualifier defining it as such, the question here, too, is whether water baptism or baptism of the Spirit is in view; we cannot simply assume the former (and the fact that we are told that the baptism here is “not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God” would seem to lean away from the former).  Here, too, we must look at the entire context of the passage to come to the best understanding.  Here is the passage in context:

… when the longsuffering of God waited patiently in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ … (1 Peter 3:20-21)

Noteworthy here is the use of the term “antitype (ἀντίτυπος), which refers to something that stands as a representation of something else. In the NT it seems to be used interchangeably with “type” (τύπος).  What is crucial to note is that a type can be a parallel to what it is representing, or it can be the opposite, a contrast to what it is representing.  In Hebrews 9:24, the temple is a parallel type of heaven, whereas in Romans 5:14, Adam is a contrasting type of Christ.[22]

What is the “type” in 1 Peter 3:20-21? We note that, since the flood in Noah’s days is the thing of which baptism is said to be a type, Peter seems to be portraying the flood waters as a sort of “baptism” (and, in fact, one meaning of βαπτίζω in the passive voice is “to be drowned”[23]) – indeed, it is difficult to see any other sort of typology here.

Now the question is whether 1 Peter 3:20-21 should be seen as a parallel type or a contrasting type.  We note that the first “baptism” destroyed, and the second saves, and the first “baptism” was done to those who rejected God and the second is done to those who accept God (in Christ), so it seems the better conclusion is that this is a contrastive type.  That, in turn, would make the second baptism different from the first, which was immersion in water, and that points to the second baptism being the baptism in the Spirit, whereby indeed we are saved, and not water baptism.

There are a couple of other supporting hints that point towards this understanding.  First, this is a contrasting type, and fire has been seen as the standard contrast to water, and we see the baptism of the Spirit referred to in such terms:

John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16; see also Acts 2:3-4).

Second, in the text “an antitype which now saves us—baptism” (ἀντίτυπον νῦν σῴζει βάπτισμα), “saves” is in the present tense, which indicates an ongoing action.[24]  Baptism of the Spirit is an ongoing factor as we are being saved; water baptism was a one-time event in the past, and we would therefore expect the aorist tense to be used in the text if that is what were in view.

We recall that 1 Peter 3:21 is touted as the inescapable “clobber verse” that proves the necessity of water baptism for salvation by those who hold to that doctrine.  We are told that it cannot be explained away. We have not sought to explain it away, however, as that would not be handling the word of God rightly.  The proper goal is to understand what it means, and what we have seen is that this is not, in fact, an inescapable “clobber verse”; on the contrary, it is more reasonable to understand it as a reference to the baptism of the Spirit, and not water baptism at all.

Conclusion

We pointed out earlier that the Bible, being the word of God, does not contradict itself. Every doctrine we believe must align with all that the Bible says on the topic under consideration.  This certainly applies to the crucial issue of “What must I do to be saved?”  Is salvation sola fide, or must we perform some work in addition to faith to be saved?  There are some who claim that the Bible teaches that one work is indeed necessary to be saved, and that is water baptism.

Accordingly, we looked at what the Bible has to say on this topic and found that sola fide is taught, and that it is taught definitively in some passages.  If water baptism is required, therefore, the Bible contradicts itself.  Therefore, we looked carefully at the verses adduced by those who teach the necessity of water baptism for salvation. What we found is that every one of these passages does, in fact, align with the doctrine of salvation sola fide, and not one teaches the necessity of water baptism for salvation.

Now, the advocate of the need for water baptism for salvation may not like the meanings we have adduced for his passages, but they are exegetically viable and align with the sum of Scriptural teachings on this matter.  He cannot insist on different meanings that result in Scripture being set against Scripture; that is a nonstarter.

The answer that the Bible gives to the question of “What must I do to be saved?” is that salvation is sola fide.  There is only one baptism that is necessary for salvation, and that is the baptism of the Spirit:

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

And how did we receive that Spirit?

This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. (Galatians 3:2-7)

So let us hear the end of the matter: Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in the true Christ aloneNothing else, including water baptism, is needed.  That is the true Gospel.

Does It Matter?  What Is at Stake?

There are many issues on which Christians can be sincerely mistaken without affecting their standing as Christians, but there are other issues that are “salvific”, i.e. they must be believed for one to be saved.  We must inquire diligently as to whether the belief that salvation sola fide is in the former or latter category.  If the former, a Christian can believe that water baptism is necessary for salvation (though he would be wrong about this) without any serious spiritual consequence.  But if it falls into the “salvific” category, such a belief would be a denial of the Gospel of salvation and would put one beyond the pale of Christianity.

The Biblical evidence is clear that sola fide is indeed a salvific belief; the entire epistle to the Galatians was written to address this matter.  As we have seen, while what the “false brethren” insisted on as being necessary for salvation was circumcision, Paul’s response (which is actually the word of God) was not about circumcision per se but about the fact that we are saved by faith and cannot and need not be completed by any work (Galatians 2:15-16, 3:1-14).

What does Paul say about the claim that a work is needed for salvation?  He calls it a different gospel which is not a gospel at all, and he calls for those who preach such a thing to be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9)!  This does not sound like a harmless mistake.

On the contrary, Paul goes on to warn the Galatian Christians that if they accept this teaching that they must do a work to be saved, it will be their spiritual undoing:

Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Galatians 5:2-4)

We must conclude that salvation by grace alone through faith alone in the true Christ alone is a salvific belief.  Not only is nothing else besides faith needed, nothing else is allowed.  We cannot require any work, including water baptism, for salvation; it is sola fideAnyone who insists on ignoring this and insists that water baptism is necessary for salvation is twisting the Scripture to his own destruction (per 2 Peter 3:16) and putting himself outside of Christianity and bringing the curses of Galatians 5:2-4 upon himselfThis is indeed a matter of crucial importance, and we cannot afford to err on it.


Endnotes

[1] The entire answer is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  Paul and Silas are telling the jailer that the offer being made to him (the imperative is in the singular, and therefore applies only to the jailer himself; he is commanded to believe and be saved. But the offer extends to the jailer’s family, viz. that any of them who individually believes will be saved thereby.  No one in the household is saved by the jailer’s faith but himself; each one in the household must personally believe to be saved).  (See the discussion in Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996, p. 402.)

[2] This expression was popularized during the Reformation era.

[3] From “Church of Christ: Restored April 6 1830: Basic Beliefs” Point 5. Posted at http://www.churchofchrist-tl.org/basicbeliefs.html. (Accessed April 14, 2018).

[4] CCC 1129

[5] As Jesus said, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:24-25)

[6] For example, one finds the statement in the NT about Jesus that, “He has Beelzebul” and “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons” (Mark 3:22).  But the Bible is not ascribing demonic powers to Jesus; the full verse says, “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul,’ and, ‘By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.’”  So the Bible does not ascribe demonic powers to Jesus but simply affirms that the scribes from Jerusalem made such an accusation, and all inerrancy requires is that those scribes actually made such accusations, not that the accusations themselves were true.  Also, we see both Abraham and Isaac lying to Abimelech, with nary a hint of censure – on the contrary, they seem to come out with a reward – in Genesis 20 and 26:1-12, yet we would not conclude from these that lying is acceptable, especially in light of specific didactic statements condemning lying (e.g. Proverbs 12:22; 1 Timothy 1:10).  Even the apostles themselves made errors (e.g. Galatians 2:11-21).

[7] For example, the statement “I like hockey” has only a limited number of meanings, but there is more than one: Do I like to watch hockey or play hockey, or both?  Do I like ice hockey, street hockey, roller hockey, field hockey, or table hockey, or some combination of those?  If I say, “I like to play hockey,” the number of possible meanings is reduced, and if I say, “I like to play ice hockey,” the statement is now univocal (it has only one possible meaning).

[8] Regarding the example in the previous footnote, “I like to play ice hockey” address only my feelings about playing ice hockey; it does not address how I feel about playing other types of hockey or which types, if any, I like to watch.  It would be a logical error to draw any conclusion about any of these other matters; they are out of the scope of my statement, which addresses only how I feel about playing one type of hockey.

[9] A proposition is an actual, explicit statement of a fact.  An inference is a conclusion drawn based on a proposition that does not actually state that conclusion.  For example, if I say, “I do not like to go to baseball games,” that is a propositional statement with a clear meaning.  On the other hand, if you offer me a free ticket to a Blue Jays game and I turn it down, you may assume (make the inference) that I do not like to go to baseball games, but in fact maybe I do like to go and I turned down the ticket for another reason (e.g. I had a business meeting at the time that I could not postpone).

[10] In the summer, days become hotter and longer.  But they do not become longer because they are hotter, nor do they become hotter because they are longer.

[11] A doctrine that requires ignoring passages or denying and/or changing the plain meaning of words and/or ascribing to them unattested meanings is a guarantee of error.  Scripture cannot be set against itself, and the approach that sees advocates of a view saying, “Yes, this says this, but that says the opposite” must be rejected.

[12] Textual criticism may sometimes be crucial.  Where there are variants in the Greek manuscripts, it is essential to make sure we are exegeting the correct one, as an erroneous variant by its nature may introduce a contradiction with other verses that are not actually there in the original text.  This is particularly important, since the overwhelming majority of scholars use the error-ridden Nestle-Aland Greek text, which does exactly that: introduce errors that are not in the original Greek text.  See Tors, John, “Why There Is an Error in Mark 1:2 in Your Bible: Another Example of the Evangelical Betrayal of the Bible” at https://truthinmydays.com/why-there-is-an-error-in-mark-12-in-your-bible-another-example-of-the-evangelical-betrayal-of-the-bible/; Tors, John, “Textual Criticism and the End of Biblical Inerrancy: Follow-up Comments on the Tors/Costa New Testament Text Debate (Part 1) at https://truthinmydays.com/textual-criticism-and-the-end-of-biblical-inerrancy-follow-up-comments-on-the-torscosta-new-testament-text-debate-part-1/; and Tors, John, “A Primer on New Testament Textual Criticism (in Manageable, Bite-Sized Chunks)” at https://truthinmydays.com/a-primer-on-new-testament-textual-criticism-in-manageable-bite-sized-chunks/.

[13] There are incidents during Jesus’ Earthly ministry that He was asked similar questions.  Before His death and resurrection and the consequent institution of the New Covenant, Jesus usually sought to move people forward in faith rather than presenting the entire Gospel message, which at the time would have been referring to an event that had not yet happened.  His answers to these questions were rather oblique, but even in these cases a careful examination shows that Jesus was indeed directing people towards Himself as the means of eternal life.  See, e.g., Tors, John, “‘What Shall I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?’ A Closer Look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan” at https://truthinmydays.com/what-shall-i-do-to-inherit-eternal-life-a-closer-look-at-the-parable-of-the-good-samaritan/.

[14] The Gospel According to John is of particular importance in this matter.  Luke makes it clear that his Gospel book is written to believers (Luke 1:3-4), and believers already know who Jesus is and how to be saved, so these matters need not be emphasized in Luke’s account.  The Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Mark, being so similar to the Gospel According to Luke in scope, were presumably also written to believers (and, in the case of Mark, we have confirmation from Eusebius that this was so, in Historia Ecclesiastica 2.15).  The Gospel According to John, on the other hand, is written to unbelievers, for John states his purpose in writing: “… but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31).  So certainly it will give clear teaching on what one must do to be saved.

[15] It is vain to argue that baptism is not a work because the person being baptised is only a passive recipient and is not actually doing anything, for the same applies, and more so, to circumcision.  Furthermore, in both cases even if the person being baptized is only a passive recipient, he is the recipient of a work being done by someone else – which would mean that he is not saved sola fide, but by a work done by someone other than Christ.

[16] In the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament text, the phrase “and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with” is omitted from both v. 22 and v. 23.

[17] While Jesus’ death is not explicitly mentioned in these verses, the reference to it is clear from the parallel with “the cup that I am about to drink,” which He uses elsewhere as a metaphor for His death (Matthew 26:42; John 18:8-11).

[18] The form is identical for them.  See Brooks, James A. and Carlton L. Winbery. Syntax of New Testament Greek. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1979, pp. 59-60.

[19] Brooks and Winbery, op. cit., pp. 143-152

[20] ibid., pp. 149-150

[21] The other passage with similar language is Galatians 3:27, where it is in the midst of a discourse teaching that salvation is by faith alone, and not by any work.

[22] “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type (τύπος) of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:14-19).

[23] BDAG, p. 375

[24] It would be better to translate it as “an antitype which is saving us—baptism”.

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