Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

by Matt Slick

This conversation is a good illustration of the need to know more than basic theology when discussing the issue of whether or not baptism is necessary for salvation.

Both Frank and I had computer Bible programs at our disposal, so we were copying text into the dialogue. This made things easier and quicker.

Also, this dialogue belies my belief in infant baptism. I'm Reformed in theology and believe in the covenant aspect of baptism that includes infants. I do not believe it saves infants, but I believe that as circumcision was a covenant sign in the Old Testament; baptism is the covenant sign in the New.

My desire is not to convince you or anyone about this position here in this dialogue. Rather it is to establish the fact that baptism is not a requirement for salvation.

Frank: You're from CARM right?
Matt: Yep.
Matt: I'm Matt Slick.
Frank: That's what I thought.
Frank: What do you think of water baptism regeneration?
Matt: It is a false doctrine.
Frank: Still another meaning refers to the sacrament of baptism, which is a spiritual rather than bodily cleansing (Matt. 28:19, Rom. 6:3, 1 Pet. 3:21).
Matt: Correct. It is important, but it is not what saves us.
Frank: event from water baptism (see John 3:5, Acts 2:38, 19:2-3, 22:16, Rom. 6:3, Col. 2:11-12, Titus 3:5, and 1 Pet. 3:21 on the subject of baptism's graces). But something instructive can be learned about the mode of baptism and the meaning of the word 'baptizo' even if they insist on separating Spirit baptism from water baptism. Aren't they the same?
Matt: Water baptism is a sacrament--a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality. Spirit baptism is an anointing, possession, movement of God on a person.
Frank: Isn't it essential for salvation? "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Acts 2:38; what about this? Acts 19:1-6 weren't they baptized immediately in this passage of scripture?
Matt: Do you believe baptism is necessary for salvation?
Frank: I don't know.
Matt: Have you got a Bible?
Frank: Yep.
Matt: Acts 10:44, They are baptized after receiving the holy spirit, right? It was after they speak in tongues and glorify God. Tongues is a gift for the church, for church members, for the saved . . . then they were baptized. If baptism is necessary, then that means those people were filled with the HS, glorified God, and spoke in tongues, but they were not saved. Does that make any sense?
Frank: How do you explain the baptism 1st in (Acts 2:41)?
Matt: Hold on. One thing at a time. Do you see the point in Acts 10:44ff?
Frank: Luke 3:3; Luke 7:29; Acts 19:4; Rom. 6:4; Eph. 4:5--All refer to baptism and I read Acts 10:44 but there are other passages too, that should be looked at like Matt. 3:13. Didn't Jesus give us an example of how we should be baptized?
Matt: First of all, were the people in Acts 10:44ff saved before baptism?
Frank: Yes, in that particular situation, but how about all these other verses. Why absolutize that passage and not others? Like Acts 1:5, why did John the Baptist give water baptism?
Matt: If they were saved before baptism, then baptism isn't necessary for salvation, is it? Psalm 119:151 says that the SUM of God's law is truth. Let's tackle Acts 2:38, okay?
Frank: Okay.
Matt: What is 'the promise' spoken of in Acts 2:39?
Frank: The promise of the HS and the LORD shall call. But you still have not answered the above passages, that are in reference to baptism.
Matt: First of all, let's stick with one thing at a time. Second, that is not it.
Frank: What do you mean?
Matt: To a Jew what would be "The Promise"? Gen. 17:7, "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." Gal. 3:8-14, "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, All the nations shall be blessed in you. 9So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them. Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, The righteous man shall live by faith. 12However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, He who practices them shall live by them 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us for it is written, Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Notice that in verse 8 the promise is called the Gospel being justified by faith. Verse 14 mentions it as THE PROMISE. Acts 7:17, "But as the time of the promise was approaching which God had assured to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt." Acts 13:32-33, "And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33 that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, Thou art My Son; today I have begotten Thee."
Frank: Verse 39 says, "for the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar, even as many as the Lord our God shall call."
Matt: Yes. Very good. The Abrahamic Promise included infants, didn't it? The Abrahamic Promise is that God would justify the gentiles by faith. Check out Rom. 4:13-16, "For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; 15for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all."
Frank: "Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16). 1 Pet. 3:21: "Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."  Luke 18:15 says, "Now they were bringing even infants to him" (Proseferon de auto kai ta brephe), and following this are the same words as in Matt. 19:14. The Greek word brephe means "infants"--could you explain these passages?
Matt: We are doing Acts 2:38. One verse at a time.
Frank: Okay.
Matt: Do you see that the Abrahamic promise is still in effect?
Frank: What you mean?
Matt: The Abrahamic promise is THE PROMISE spoken of in Acts 2:39 . THE PROMISE is that God would justify the Gentiles by Faith. That is reiterated by Paul in Gal. 3:8ff and Rom. 4:13ff. Acts 2:38 is referred to in Acts 2:39 , THE PROMISE. Do you remember what the sign of the Abrahamic promise was?
Frank: I don't know, then how in the world can infants be saved, they do not understand to have faith?
Matt: Were infants included in the Abrahamic promise through circumcision?
Frank: Yes.
Matt: Circumcision was the covenant sign of the Abrahamic promise, right?
Frank: To be honest I don't know.
Matt: THE promise in Acts 2:39 was meant for the children, too, wasn't it?
Frank: I guess . . .
Matt: Gen. 17:11-12, "And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants." Acts 2 is full of quotes from the OT. Peter was a Jew. He was speaking to Jews. THE PROMISE was understood by the Jews; they knew what it was. That is why Peter said it was for their children as well. That is why entire households were baptized. Don't households have babies in them?
Frank: Yep.
Matt: You see, this is theology. The groups that teach baptismal regeneration don't know this stuff . . . therefore, they make mistakes. Acts 2:38 isn't speaking about baptism being a requirement. It is a sacramental sign. Circumcision didn't save. Baptism doesn't either.
Frank: I can see that.
Matt: It is a covenant sign and promise for God's people and their children. That is the context. Peter wasn't saying that baptism saves . . . but he was drawing their attention to the significance of the NEW covenant sign for Christians: baptism.
Frank: What about these passages? "Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16). 1 Pet. 3:21: "Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Luke 18:15 says, "Now they were bringing even infants to him" (Proseferon de auto kai ta brephe), and following this are the same words as in Matt. 19:14.
Matt: Acts 22:16, Calling on Jesus' name is what saves us--not water. 1 Pet. 3:21, let's look at it in the NASB.
Frank: Okay.
Matt: "And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." "And corresponding to that" in the Greek is the word, 'antitupon.' It means antitype--representation, etc. The question is then, "Corresponding to what?" For that we need to look at the previous verses.1 Pet. 3:18-20, "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water." What was it that saved Noah and his family? The water or the ark?
Frank: The ark.
Matt: Did they enter the ark by faith?
Frank: Yes.
Matt: Then they were saved by faith, weren't they? That is why it says in the rest of 1 Pet. 3:21, " . . . not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Peter is stating that it was not the water but an appeal to God that saves. The appeal is done by faith, right?
Frank: It looks that way.
Matt: Then baptism is actually an appeal to God, a trust in Him by faith, a dying to ourselves (Rom. 6; Col. 3), a public declaration of our identification with Christ. Does that make sense?
Frank: I think. Acts 1:5, why did John the Baptist give water baptism?
Matt: In Matt. 3:13-15 it says, "Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Jesus got baptized to "fulfill all righteousness." He came to fulfill the Law. Quite simply, Jesus was baptized, so he could enter into the Melchizedek priesthood so He could be the High Priest and offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.
Frank: When believers get baptized is that to show a fulfillment of righteousness?
Matt: No. When JESUS got baptized, it was to fulfill righteousness. To be consecrated as a priest, He had to be:
--washed with water (Lev. 8:6; Exodus 29:4, Matt. 3:16).
--Anointed with oil (Lev. 8:12; Exodus 29:7; Matt. 3:16).
Both of these were bestowed upon Jesus at His baptism. Additionally, He may have needed to be 30 years old--(Num. 4:3). Jesus said in John 5:39 that the Bible was about Him. Jesus came to fulfill the Bible prophecies and typologies. He was baptized to enter into the priesthood (Heb. 5-7).
--Exodus 29:1--"This is what you are to do to consecrate them, so they may serve me as priests: Take a young bull and two rams without defect."
Exodus 29:4--"Then bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and wash them with water."
Exodus 29:7--"Take the anointing oil and anoint him by pouring it on his head." The Holy Spirit anointed Jesus at His baptism. He was 30 years old. THAT is why He was baptized--to fulfill the Law and to be our High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, so He could be a sacrifice for our sins.

Frank: Okay, I've got to think about this for a while.
Matt: Save the transcript and read it, okay?
Frank: okay, no problem.

Baptism is a very important ordinance for the Christian. But it is not what saves us, and it is not part of salvation. We are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1)--not faith and baptism.




About The Author

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