There are a lot of passages that seem to indicate that baptism is required for salvation. What do you think the role of baptism is in regards to being saved? (this question was actually several pages long, but for simplicity, I have paraphrased the question here).
The role of baptism certainly plays a significant role in Christianity and Judaism (called the “Mikvah”) before it. It is a great question for us to make sure that we are always giving this act of obedience the attention it deserves, and it is great to hear from someone passionate about it! In both settings, baptism is a clear representation of a serious change. It comes from the literal concept of dyeing… and indicates that the very fabric has changed colors. Once a piece of cloth is baptized, it is not a red cloth colored white, it is a white cloth! What a beautiful picture of the change that a conversion creates. The teachings of the New Testament certainly show how important it is.
For example, baptism is recognized as a form of testimony alongside that of the Spirit! (John 5:7-9 “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son.” (NASU)
It is commanded by Ananias to Paul with definite urgency! Paul’s acts of purification as a Pharisee before were not sufficient, from Ananias’ opinion. (Acts 22:16″Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” (NASU)
Baptism is connected to salvation strongly. For example, some of the passages you referenced: Acts 2:38, I Peter 3:21,Col 2:12, Rom 6:4, all connect the act of baptism to death and resurrection – but it doesn’t seem likely that Luke and Paul mean that being baptized is to literally die and be resurrected. Instead, it seems to me that these passages make more clear that baptism is meant to be a living parable of the death and resurrection we accept and look forward to while we follow the example of Christ. Paul says “consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11) Paul is creating that incredible picture of our commitment to death to ourselves, so that to really die would be gain, but to live is Christ. In fact, note that in 1 Peter 3:21, Peter, the passage makes clear that he is not talking about literal washing, but the making clean the conscience before God. This passage seems to make abundantly clear that salvation does not come from physical baptism.
So, it seems to me that the question is not whether baptism is intimately connected to salvation (it is), but whether one is saved without it, or at least, before it, so let’s examine some of these other passages as well. In the full question you sent, you referenced Mark 16. I have never heard anyone before reference Mark 16:15-16 as the “Great Commission.” It is pretty universally considered to be Matt 28:18-20, which reads:
“All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Mt. 28:18-20 ASV). Again, the importance of baptism is clear, but is it the source of salvation? The Mark passage certainly makes it sound so, doesn’t it? However, there is a problem. Take a look in your Bible and you will probably note a little script at the beginning of Mark 16:8 a note that says that the oldest versions of Mark that we have do not include verses 9- the end of the chapter. Do some research on this, I think you will find it fascinating. In short, though, this passage in Mark is thus considered “suspicious” as to whether Mark actually wrote it and may actually not a part of the original text. (It also includes the passages about handling serpents and drinking poison.)
As the Matt 28 verses area great example of, however; there is no doubt that baptism is intimately connected throughout scripture to salvation. As mentioned, the imagery, in fact, predates Christianity itself! The Jewish people used baptism to indicate a number of different things, from purification to conversion, as did the first Christians. In fact, the repentance for and purification from the stain of sin seems the one of the most common picture used (Matt 3:11″As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Acts 2:38 “Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Titus 3:5-7 “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
1 Cor 6:11 “…Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (NASU))
I personally also think the John 3 passage about being baptized by spirit and water fits best into this last idea.
So, if the passages that connect baptism to salvation do not clearly teach the baptism is the/a source of salvation, then what is clearly taught about it/ You mentioned the verse in Roman 10:13 which says “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul quoted these verses from the Old Testament (Joel 2:28-32) Peter also quoted the same verse from Joel in Acts 2:21 but went on in Acts 2:38 to state “repent and be baptized, everyone of you, for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” However, Paul had already discussed the role of baptism in Chapter 6 of this same letter saying that those who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death. He discussed in those verses how baptism symbolizes our death, burial and resurrection into a new life.
To me, it seems that Paul is finishing a thought that connects chapters 1-10 of Romans, which is a progressive book. Death, slavery, pottery, etc. are all pictures of one thing… salvation is in Christ, not us… so the only way to be saved is to call on Him. He saves us… period. Chapter 10 makes this case pretty strongly! Salvation is of the Lord… period. Confess, believe, call on (which are really the same things too). In fact, I think that is really the issue between those who put baptism in different places in regards to salvation.
To teach baptism as a requirement for salvation puts it on the timeline before salvation. In other words, one’s baptism would cause one to be saved – it predates salvation in the individual’s life. How would this be possible, since baptism is an act of obedience? Why would someone be baptized into something they do not believe?
And as mentioned before, it is a part of the Great Commission of Christ to His followers – to “make disciples, baptizing them…” To fail to take baptism seriously , or to treat it as anything other than a act of obedience would be a wrong. At the same time, I would ask that you examine these verses and their surrounding passages:
John 1:12-13 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
John 5:24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
Rom 10:8-10 “But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, in your mouth and in your heart” — that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
Gal 3:22-23 “But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.” (NASU)
and of course, Eph 2, which makes it clear that salvation is not of works. Is salvation a free gift to be accepted, or is it payment due when my baptism is complete? Have I earned my salvation by being baptized? Have I failed to earn it by not being baptized? Eph 2, and these other passages make it clear that salvation comes from belief alone (on our part) and there is no need to add anything else. Is obedience, and thus baptism, a fruit produced on the tree of salvation? Absolutely. As surely as peace, love, and repentance are, so is baptism. Is it a requirement? Apparently not for the thief on the cross, who did just what Paul later said: he “called upon the name of the Lord.”
28 Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (NASU)
Great question – I hope you enjoy this analysis – I had fun working on it.