Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Answering Proof Texts Cited In Defense Of Baptismal Regeneration

  • Discussion:
          -The purpose of this article is to rebut a number of proof texts cited for baptismal regeneration, which is the belief that baptism is necessary for salvation. Following are a handful of excerpts from a source alongside a critique:

          "Mark 16:16 – Jesus said “He who believes AND is baptized will be saved.” Jesus says believing is not enough. Baptism is also required. This is because baptism is salvific, not just symbolic. The Greek text also does not mandate any specific order for belief and baptism, so the verse proves nothing about a “believer’s baptism.”

          The act of baptism is associated with justification before God, but does not constitute that instance itself. Consider this reasoning from analogy: people can have experience driving a vehicle, but it does not follow that they acquire knowledge regarding its assembly. In the same vein, Mark 16:16 nowhere indicates that unbaptized Christians will be condemned by God. Baptism cannot be a condition for salvation because it is a work (Ephesians 2:8-9). As to the order of faith and baptism in Scripture, the latter always follows the former. For example, Matthew 28:19 says, "teach...and baptize..." Acts 2:38 says, "repent...and be baptized..."

          "John 3:3,5 – unless we are “born again” of water and Spirit in baptism, we cannot enter into the kingdom of God. The Greek word for the phrase “born again” is “anothen” which literally means “begotten from above.” See, for example, John 3:31 where “anothen” is so used. Baptism brings about salvation, not just a symbolism of our salvation."

          Andreas J. Kostenberger, in the book titled Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, page 435, notes that the phrase "born again" is rooted in Old Testament symbolism:

          "...Most likely this passage constitutes an allusion to Ezek. 36:25-27, which presages God's cleansing of human hearts with water and their inner transformation by his Spirit (cf. also Isa. 44:3-5; Jub. 1:23-25; see Schlatter 1948: 89; Carson 1991: 191-96, esp. 194-95; McCabe 1999; Cotterell 1985: 241; Kynes 1992, esp. 575). The notion of a new beginning and a decisive inner transformation of a person's life is found in other OT prophetic passages (e.g., Jer. 31:33-34; Ezek. 11:19-20). It is this spiritual reality of which Nicodemus, Israel's teacher, ought to have been aware but which he and, one may assume, his fellow Sanhedrin members-the personal pronouns in Jesus' statements "You must be born again" (3:7] and "You (people) do not accept our testimony" (3:11] are plural in the Greek) personally lacked."

          The motif of being washed spiritually was something known to the Qumran Community. Consider the following excerpt cited by Alex Deasley, The Shape of Qumran Theology, p. 232:

          "By the spirit of holiness which links him with his truth he is cleansed of all his sins. And by the spirit of uprightness and humility his sin is atoned. And by the compliance of his soul with all the laws of God his flesh is cleansed by being sprinkled with cleansing waters and being made holy with the waters of repentance. May he, then, steady his steps in order to walk with perfection on all the paths of God." (IQS III 7b-10a)

          David W. Pao, in the New International Version Zondervan Study Bible, says the following:

          "3:5 born of water and the Spirit. Parallel with "born again" (vv. 3,7) and "born of the Spirit" (v. 8), emphasizing a (single) Spirit-produced birth. This makes several interpretations unlikely: (1) that "born of water" refers to natural birth (no ancient sources picture natural birth as "from water," where "water" is the amniotic fluid that breaks before childbirth); (2) that "born of water” refers to Christian baptism (these words would have had no relevance to Nicodemus at the time): (3) that "born of water" refers to John's baptism (also, vv. 9-12 then do not logically follow); (4) that "the Spirit” refers to the Word of God (John's other metaphoric uses of "water" in this Gospel refer to Spirit-produced life [4:14; 7:3839], not to God's Word). The most plausible interpretation of "born of water and the Spirit" is the purifying and transforming new birth. Since Jesus expects Nicodemus to understand what he means (vv. 7, 10), the background to the concept is previous Scripture. Water in the OT often refers to renewal or cleansing, and the most significant OT connection bringing together water and spirit is Ezek 36:25-27, where water cleanses from impurity and the Spirit transforms hearts. So "born of water and the Spirit" signals a new birth that cleanses and transforms."

          "Acts 2:38 – Peter commands them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ in order to be actually forgiven of sin, not just to partake of a symbolic ritual."

          In Acts 2:38, the Apostle Peter was calling upon his audience to identify themselves with Jesus Christ. In getting baptized, they identified themselves as being recipients of the grace and mercy of God. They aligned themselves with the cause of Christ. Baptism signifies His death and resurrection. It is a picture of an inner transformation of our hearts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Another passage that has the same kind of imagery regarding baptism is 1 Corinthians 10:2. The Apostle Paul stated that the Israelites were baptized into Moses, meaning that they identified themselves with his mission and purpose. Baptism is not a condition for salvation, but an expression that one has been forgiven by God and granted citizenship into His kingdom. 

          "1 Cor. 6:11 – Paul says they were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, in reference to baptism. The “washing” of baptism gives birth to sanctification and justification, which proves baptism is not just symbolic."

          The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11 does not refer to the ritual act of baptism, but to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 5:26 is another text that uses visually descriptive and figurative language regarding washing. 

          If Paul believed in baptismal regeneration, then it would have been illogical for him to have spoken the way he had at the beginning of his letter (1 Corinthians 1:14-17). He clearly separated the events of baptism and justification. Thus, Paul did not believe doing such diminished the importance of that ritual.

          "1 Peter 3:21 – Peter expressly writes that “baptism, corresponding to Noah’s ark, now saves you; not as a removal of dirt from the body, but for a clear conscience. “ Hence, the verse demonstrates that baptism is salvific (it saves us), and deals with the interior life of the person (purifying the conscience, like Heb. 10:22), and not the external life (removing dirt from the body)."

          The key to answering this argument lies in the phrase "...which corresponds to this" (or "The like figure...," Authorized Version). Just as Noah and his family had entered the ark to escape judgement from God on this world through floodwater, those who place their trust in Jesus Christ will be saved from eternal condemnation at the Final Judgement. He is the ark of our salvation. Baptism is a picture of the newness of life that we experience in Him. 1 Peter 3:21 says that it is not the ritual which purifies our consciences ("not as a removal of dirt from the body..."), but that which baptism represents, namely, our changed identity and newfound union in Christ. "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" (Hebrews 9:14)