An Inquiry On Water Baptism
I find the words of Bart D. Ehrman to be refreshing, even as a Christian (he’s an atheist). In his book, “How Jesus Became God”, he writes how after leaving Christianity people would send several e-mails, claiming he never held a personal relationship with Christ. Professor Ehrman questions the reason they cannot leave him alone. Perhaps it’s because they themselves have questions but are too afraid to re-examine their views.
I’m afraid I could be in the same predicament. After having believed one way for so long and leaving it, people want answers. Unfortunately, they will reject questioning their own faiths for fear of being lost. It’s the same in every religion. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all believe, or at one time did, in a hell. Christianity and Islam talk much more about hell, while Judaism has since walked away from the notion of a loving/merciful God condemning people who didn’t know Him to eternal agony.
To my knowledge, Jewish people today would rather believe and obey because they love God, not because they fear Him. This is unlike Islam, where the belief is to fear God and obey Muhammad, as written repetitively in the Qur’an. It is also unlike the perspective haunting many Christians, where hellfire is hot and all the damned (lost souls) are doomed for eternity, including Christians who fail to abstain from any sin.
While this article is not on hell, hell is a motivator for many people. Sadly, hell is more of a motivator than God. You don’t have to love God because He is good or loving or even merciful. You must love Him because if you don’t, you will spend eternity in hell. Which sounds better, to love and obey God to escape hellfire, or to love God and obey Him because of your love for Him? The question, in theory, sounds easy to answer, yet most would choose hell as a motivator over God.
So if hell is a motivator, then beliefs must not be questioned, because surely if we believe what we’ve been taught is true, then to disbelieve would be wrong. To disbelieve would not make God any more loving, for He is the one that will throw us in hell, according to the Bible (Torah included) and Qur’an.
We do not find baptism in the Qur’an as it is in the Bible, therefore the conversation on the Qur’an and Islam ends here. Instead, let’s turn toward the Christian baptism and the meaning behind it. Note: I come from a Pentecostal background, though I differ in certain ways.
Most Christians have two to three ways of understanding water baptism:
- Baptism isn’t really necessary, just shows we are Christians.
- Baptism isn’t required for salvation, but is important.
- Baptism is the second important step to salvation. It is completely essential.
These views are the most commonly held views by Christians worldwide. First, I want to remind readers that most Christians either use hell as a motivator or reject hell, mostly entirely. For many Christians, the fear of hell is stronger than the love, grace and mercy of God. This is not true of every Christian, as this is not true about Christianity.
If baptisms is not important in anyway, then we must discard the commandment of Jesus in Matthew 28:19:
Matthew 28:19 NKJV
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
To disregard baptism as unimportant and not necessary is to disregard the very thing Jesus commanded his disciples to do. The very next verse says:
Matthew 28:20 NKJV
teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
To be a disciple of Christ, a Christian, is to follow his teachings. Jesus even said:
John 14:15 NKJV
“If you love Me, keep My commandments.
If we claim to follow Christ, then baptism is a commandment and to disobey a commandment of Jesus would be to disobey God, hence, a sin.
Some argue that Matthew has been corrupted to show a Trinitarian baptism vs a singular Name baptism. While there may be a debate over that, the original manuscripts give way to one conclusion: Jesus commanded his disciples to go and baptize believers.
I’ll skip to the third category before finishing with the second set of baptismal believers.
In the third category, believers acknowledge that baptism is commanded, but they proceed to mandate it essential. Most of the third category believe Acts 2:38 first, and then attempt to build around that verse with other scriptures. Acts 2:38 would be the cornerstone of the doctrine. That being said, Acts 2:38 is the not the same doctrine as the apostles doctrine. Some say Acts 2:38 is a summarized version of Jesus’s gospel which Peter attempted to explain to the world.
If baptism does rest on being essential to the Christians’ salvation, then we must look at the moral implications we place God into. For many people whom were peasants growing up during the dark ages, they did not have Bibles they could read. Their knowledge of God was found going to church and hearing the sermons. If humans are God’s creation, created in His image, hold any sense of His image of morality, then the eternal punishing and damnation of the hundreds of millions of people who were professing Christians should be unsettling. For those that believe that salvation rests on baptism, this should be heart-rending. The fact that we have more people enslaved today than in any other point in history should also be gnawing at them. Tens to hundreds of millions, helpless about their situations or misled even so slightly, are all either heading, or have already made it to hell. In fact, the common view is that if they were alive today, they would tell you that the third category of believers were right. That is, if they even knew about them. Of course, one should be wary of believing this story, because only the third set of believers hold this story as true.
If one should ask, the belief behind the third category takes out love entirely and replaces it with fear.
2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
But we could go further with the third category. If water baptism is required, when is it required and what does it do? Most Christian understand that the word for baptism means to immerse. To baptize a person is to literally dunk them underwater. We understand that much. But does baptism wash away sins? The same person that preached Acts 2:38 doesn’t seem to believe so:
1 Peter 3:21 NKJV
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,
If Peter had truly believed that water baptism was where sins were remitted, then Peter contradicted himself. Or, perhaps we read too much into the English translation and not enough study into the intent in the original language. Several Greek scholars view ‘for’ as ‘with a view to’, meaning that we are baptized because our sins have been remitted by the shedding of the blood already performed at Calvary. Baptism, then, is not to save us from sin, but to show a clear conscience that we are Christians in the eyes of God and man. Some disagree that baptism was never used as a public confession of faith among the believers, but I ask, who baptized? Believers. And how do we know this? Public witnesses. Someone is there to baptize you, as the Christian baptism never allows for self-baptism from a biblical view.
This is where the second category comes in. The view that baptism, while important, is not essential to our salvation, unless one refuses to obey the commandment to be baptized as ordered by Christ in Matthew 28:19.
Typically, the second set of believers believe in baptism and its importance, but disagree that it is essential in the same manner as the third group. Again, if baptism is completely essential, then our morality would seem higher than God’s morality. As I do not believe in a God whose morals are lower than my own, then I must believe that either God’s morals are the same or even higher. That is, in fact, if I am a moral person. Some say morality isn’t objective, that morals are subjective. Most humans agree that rape is a crime against humanity. Our collective morals disagree with rape. Though some societies try to justify rape as moral, they themselves have a twisted and immoral sense of humanity and God. If God is real and He created us in His image, then sin is immoral for us because it is immoral to Him. Rape for one human is rape for another. They are both wrong and highly immoral.
The groundwork for baptism being necessary but not essential is found entirely in the Bible. The same verses used for requiring baptism are the very same verses used to say it is necessary but not essential.
Mark 16:16 NKJV
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
First, the passage of Mark 16:9–20 should be carefully considered. The manuscripts do not all provide the same passages, and there are three endings, only two of which are commonly seen (more evidence on them being accurate). That being said, if the text is completely accurate, then belief is always required, as he who does not believe, but is baptized, cannot be saved. The verse never alludes to those that believe but have yet to be baptized, as only the ones that do not believe are damned. If baptism was essential, the verse should make mention of baptism. Yet, for the damned, it does not.
My belief, then, can only be that belief saves, while baptism is necessary to those that belief. After all, the Lord Jesus Christ commands of all Christians to baptize new Christians. To disobey Christ, would be to disobey God.
Deuteronomy 18:18–19 NKJV
I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.  And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.
John 14:23–24 NKJV
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.
Any questions? Feel free to ask. Confused on a matter (or feel I’m entirely wrong and you are completely right), speak up and write to me.