Baptism and Mark 16:16

by Matt Slick

"He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned," (Mark 16:16).

This verse is frequently used by baptismal regenerationists to show that baptism is necessary for salvation.  It says he who believes and is baptized will be saved.  Therefore, they conclude that baptism is a necessary part of becoming saved.  But, does this verse prove that baptism is necessary for salvation?  Not at all.

Mark 16:16 does not say that baptism is a requirement for salvation.  Let me show you why.  I could easily say that he who believes and goes to church will be saved.  That is true.  But it is belief that saves - not belief and going to church. Likewise, if you believe and read your Bible, you'll be saved.  But it isn't reading your Bible that saves you.  Rather, belief in Christ and in His sacrifice is what saves.  As I've stated in other papers on this subject, there are numerous verses that clearly demonstrate that justification is by faith (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 3:9; etc.).  Belief in what God has done on the cross as a sacrifice and not what man can do by believing and getting baptized is what results in salvation.  Baptism is simply a public demonstration of the inner work of regeneration.  This is why the rest of the verse says, "...but he who does not believe will be condemned." Mark 16:16 focuses on the issue of belief - not baptism.  Notice that it does not say that he who is not baptized will not be saved.  It never says that anywhere in scripture.

A textual issue with Mark 16:9-20

What I will share next may not be very popular with some readers.  Therefore, I need to say upfront that I believe in the absolute inspiration and authority of the Bible.  It is the word of God, and what it says is authoritative.  However, the simple fact is that there are textual variations within the biblical manuscripts.  The originals are what are inspired - not the copies. We have copies of inspired documents.  These copies are not perfect, but they are very close to it.

Again, I am not saying the Bible is untrustworthy.  It is 98.5% textually pure.  The remaining 1.5% of textual variation are almost entirely of insignificant spelling errors and minor word omissions or additions that do not change the meaning of the text.  However, Mark 16:9-20 is a significant textual variant.  Many scholars, Christian scholars, consider the ending of Mark to lack authenticity.  Please consider the following evidence.

  1. Manuscript attestation.
    1. Mark 16:9-20 doesn't appear in many of the oldest ancient manuscripts.  "The last twelve verses of Mark (16:9-20) are lacking in the two earliest parchment codices, B and Aleph, in the Old Latin manuscript k,, the Sinaitic Syriac, many manuscripts of the Old Armenian version, the Adysh and Opiza manuscripts of the Old Georgian version, and a number of manuscripts of the Ethiopic version.  Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Ammonius show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; other Church Fathers state that the section is absent from Greek copies of Mark known to them (e.g. Jerome, Epist. cxx. 3, ad hedibiam,) . . . The original form of the Eusebian sections makes no provision for numbering sections after 16:8.  Not a few manuscripts which contain the passage have scholia stating that older Greek copies lack it (so, for example, MSS. 1, 20,22, &c.), and in other witnesses the passage is marked with asterisks or obeli, the conventional sigla used by scribes to indicate a spurious addition to a literary document."1
  2. There is another ending to Mark.
    1. Another ending is found in L, Psi, 099, 0112, and minuscules 274mg 579, k, Syrh and more is as follows:
      1. "But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that had been told.  And after this Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation."
  3. Apparent, theological error.
    1. Mark 16:12 says, "And after that, He appeared in a different form to two of them, while they were walking along on their way to the country." This verse may be problematic. Jesus rose in the same body in which he died (John 2:19) though it was a glorified body. This is problematic because it suggests "a different form."  Jesus did not appear in a different form. He appeared in the same body in which he rose. This is a significant problem and seems to support the idea that this section of scripture is spurious, a later addition, or a possible attempt to recount a lost section of the gospel.
  4. Vocabulary usage.
    1. There are 17 non-marcan words used in a non-marcan sense in these verses.  In other words, in the last 11 verses under discussion there are 17 "new" words that don't occur in the entire gospel of Mark.  It appears that someone wrote the ending of Mark and added it to the gospel because the style is different, and the vocabulary is different.

This information about the ending of Mark is not intended to cast doubt upon God's word.  But the fact is that the ending is under a large cloud of doubt as to its authenticity.  I would not use it as a defense for baptismal regeneration.

It appears that the ending of Mark may have been lost, and someone rewrote it and attached it to a copy at some time.  It is possible that the ending under question was never there to begin with.




  • 1. Metzger, Bruce. The Text of the New Testament. 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, New York, 1968, p. 226.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.