Salvation by Repentance and Belief: Is Water Baptism Necessary for an Unbeliever to Be Saved?

Self-ImprovementSpirituality

  • Author James Rondinone
  • Published April 18, 2023
  • Word count 3,111

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Salvation by Repentance and Belief: Is Water Baptism Necessary for an Unbeliever to Be Saved?

Some would say yes, simply because Scripture says so. They’d claim that there are a few primary verses that will provide confirmation of such. But before we look at them, I’d like us to look at a couple of other verses that might help us in answering this question, is water baptism necessary for an unbeliever to be saved?

I don’t know about you, but in my early years in church, whenever the word baptism was mentioned, I immediately thought of water baptism. That’s the only one I’d learned about. When you find the noun baptism in Scripture, it’s from the Greek word baptisma. Likewise, when you look up the verb baptize in the Bible, it’s derived from the Greek word baptizo. In certain cases, the type of baptism referred to in a passage of Scripture is unclear unless the context indicates otherwise. So, keep this in mind as we continue in this study.

Let’s begin by going to the book of 1 Corinthians.

Suggested Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-31

13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

This verse tells us that it’s by the agency of the one (same) Spirit, that we (believers) are baptized (united) into one body (the body of Christ), each of whom has received from Him various gifts of edification or leadership gifts that produces harmony and usefulness of all. In this instance, context tells us what type of baptism this refers to, which is the Baptism of the Spirit.

Let’s proceed to the book of John and try to determine which baptism is being referred to and is necessary for an unbeliever to be saved.

Suggested Reading: John 3:2-5

3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

What this verse is telling us is that unless someone is born again, they cannot see the kingdom of God. With that said, what does it mean to be born again? Let’s begin by taking a look at the background of this verse.

Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, which was comprised of the Scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees. His life was filled with good deeds and many ritualistic observances for salvation. Here, he’s visiting Jesus at night to learn about His doctrines.

Nicodemus didn’t understand when Jesus mentioned to him that in order to see the kingdom of God, a person must be born again. He thought that Jesus was referring to being born a second time in his mother’s womb. His conclusion was centered on a natural understanding of what was said.

5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Jesus told him that what was needed for someone to enter into this kingdom was that they had to be born of water and of the Spirit. It’s interesting when Nicodemus heard what was required for someone to enter the kingdom of God; he didn’t say something like, “Wait a minute, water baptism?” He was initially told by Jesus that being born again wasn’t of a natural occurrence, and yet, here he’s now being told that one of the ingredients for salvation is water baptism.

Why didn’t he react when he heard the word water? Because for Jewish people, water baptism was the act by which non-Jews converted to Judaism, the final removal of Gentile impurity; [and] by it, one turned one's back on life in paganism and sin, vowed to follow God's commandments, and became a new person with regard to Jewish law.93 As relating to his Jewish faith, water baptism wasn’t something that seemed out of the ordinary.

With what was just conveyed, I’ll ask the same question again. What does it mean to be born again? Please go to 1 Peter 1.

1 Peter 1:22-25 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

The Apostle Peter conveys what the supernatural event of becoming born again has given believers, i.e., opportunities to obey the truth, to purify themselves, and love the brethren.94 He reminded them that they were born again of incorruptible seed (the seed of Holy Spirit) and by the word of God (the instrument of the Word, the gospel; the salvation message). This tells us what two things are necessary for someone to enter the kingdom of God, i.e., the declaration of the gospel, and that if someone believes this, they’ll receive the incorruptible seed, the seed of the Holy Spirit.

And what are the gospel ingredients according to the only one we’ve looked at so far?

That the unbeliever would repent of (an acknowledgement of sins; a hearty purpose to turn from them95) of their sins.

And they would believe the gospel, which is the good news of Jesus Christ, who pre-existed time being one of the members of the Trinity, the other two being God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, being born of a virgin, God come in the flesh, deity (possessing a divine nature), having never committed one sin, died on a cross, paid the penalty for sin in order to satisfy the justice of God, forgave these sins (never bringing them up again), rose after three days never to die again, His sacrifice being accepted by God the Father, and ascended into heaven to be seated at the Father’s right hand.

So, now we can reintroduce John 3:5 again and translate it according to what we’ve just found out.

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

And here it is. Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water (of the gospel) and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. So, what does this tell us about the word water? The word water isn’t to be taken literally to mean water baptism, but figuratively or symbolically of the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. You might ask, is there a Scripture that might verify this? Yes, there is.

2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:

God had chosen the Thessalonian believers to salvation by means of the Holy Spirit and belief of the truth (the gospel). There you have it.

Well, this leads us to take a look at another verse that talks about water, albeit indirectly. Please turn in your Bible to the book of Romans.

Romans 10:9-11

If thou wilt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

Basically, this is telling us that if someone believes and makes a verbal confession all of who Christ is and what He has accomplished, then they’ll be saved. There’s no mention of water baptism being a co-requisite.

Let’s continue on and take a look at one of the most controversial verses in respect to the belief that water baptism is mandatory in the salvation process. This is found in the book of Mark.

Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

It’s no mistake that this verse says, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. The statement seems to be pretty clear that unless someone believes (repentance inferred) and is baptized, they can’t be saved. My initial thought is, which baptism is being referred to here, water baptism or the Baptism of the Spirit?

Well, we could take a look at either one and see what comes of it. If we believe that this verse is saying, He that believeth and is baptized (by the Holy Spirit) shall be saved would line up with John 3:5.

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

And if we were to look at the second part of this verse, but he that believeth not shall be damned, this would be saying that if someone doesn’t believe, then they wouldn’t receive the Holy Spirit and thus, they would be damned (condemned). This would seem to fit.

If we believe that this verse is talking about water baptism, then this would seem to contradict the Scriptures that we’ve already looked at, which support the conjecture that it’s not a necessary component for salvation. One thing that stands out is that in the second part of this verse, the emphasis for someone not being saved is that if they believeth not. What this says to me was that if water baptism in and of itself is mandatory for salvation, then this part of the verse would read, but he that is not baptized in water shall be damned. So, this tells us that water baptism, in and of itself, doesn’t cause an unbeliever to be saved.

The other thing that caught my attention was that in the wording of the first part, if water baptism must accompany belief, then both requirements should have been mentioned in the second part. In other words, if you support one with the other, then you have to negate one with the other. Another way of saying this is, for [it’s] not added to faith, as if it were the half of the cause of our salvation, but as a testimony.96 So, with this perspective, we could conclude that this verse was written under the assumption that during normal circumstances, each believer will be baptized; however, it’s not absolutely necessary for salvation.

We have one more section of verses to look at in determining whether water baptism is necessary for the salvation process. 1 Peter is where we’ll turn to. This will require the use of special glasses. Did you bring them with you? Ha-ha.

Suggested Reading: 1 Peter 3:15-22

15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

The Apostle Peter was writing this letter to the Christian Jews and Gentiles, who were living in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. While they were undergoing trials and persecutions, he instructed them to turn everything over to Christ in their hearts (thoughts) by maintaining a daily attitude of faith that obeys God's Word in spite of consequences.97 Furthermore, they were encouraged to be prepared to give a verbal defense to those who desired an explanation for what they believed and why they believed it.

Then he goes on to tell them that it would be better for them to suffer for well-doing than for evil doing as our Lord did. In other words, the just for the unjust. And what he told them next reveals something that is somewhat of a mystery, which occurred following Christ’s death on the cross.

19-20a By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing,…

These verses tell us that Christ went and preached to the spirits in prison following His death on the cross. What a surprising statement. Just who are these spirits, where is this prison, and what did He say to them? All we know is that He made some kind of an announcement to them. To who?

2 Peter 2:4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

Most commentators believe that these are fallen angels, those who had human bodies and were now residing in a place in hell (Tartaroosas) called in the English Tartarus. Do we know anything more about these spirits?

Jude 6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

We’re told that they were disobedient to God. Many commentators believe these are the same ones who left their first estate. This means they left their place in heaven, aligning themselves with the Devil, and came to the earth where they allegedly had intercourse with women.

Genesis 6:1-2 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.

This time period was known as the anti-diluvian period, or the time before the flood, which was characterized continually in the soul of its inhabitants by evil purposes and schemes to such depravity that they had no interest in God whatsoever. Genesis 6:5

So, God made himself known to a man named Noah, who found grace in His sight and was commissioned to build an ark. In connection with this, he had the responsibility to warn the people of an impending flood so that they could be saved from it if they heeded the pronouncement of this message. God allowed him to proclaim the message of deliverance for one hundred and twenty years until the time when the building of the ark was complete and the impending judgment was imminent. Unfortunately, only Noah, his wife, their three sons and wives responded. They entered the ark along with two of every living creature.

1 Peter 3:20b …wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

This is where the subject of water baptism comes into play. The wording at the end of this verse, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water, is used by some churches to substantiate the view that salvation is obtained by water baptism. Are you ready for another lesson in Koine Greek?

Without knowing a little bit about what is called the case of a noun, we wouldn’t be able to better understand the use of the words by water. The case of a noun is used to express its relationship to the other parts of the verse, i.e., the subject, direct object, indirect object, etc. In this instance, the case of the noun water is in what is called the genitive case, which is a case of possession. Greek scholars say that it replaced another case in Greek called the dative case, the case of the indirect object. Whatever noun is found out to be an indirect object can be referred to either as being what is called the dative or agent of instrument or the dative or agent of location. You might be thinking, why do we need to know this? Depending on the classification will determine how the indirect object was used in the verse, which will either support the conjecture that it pertains to water baptism or something else.

The word water was in the dative case, which was replaced by the genitive. So, this was classified as the indirect object. Now, which agent is it? In order to better understand its usage, a description of it is provided in both designations.

●Dative of Instrument: Noah and his family were saved by means of the water since it was the water of the flood which carried the ark to safety.

●Dative of Location: Noah and his family were saved from the water; they escaped from the water of the flood into the [safety] of the boat.98

Do you recognize the difference? One view says that Noah and his family were saved by means of the water, while the other view says that Noah and his family were saved from the water into the ark (a vessel to preserve treasure). Which interpretation is correct? Hopefully, the next verse will help us sort this out.

1 Peter 3:21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

The words like figure mean a thing resembling another. Its counterpart is something in the Messianic times, which answers to the type prefiguring it in the Old Testament. So, what we’ve learned is that there are two things pertaining to the like figure. One of them is water. And the other is the Ark. Each of them refers to the baptism that doth now also save us.

What do they each prefigure?

Some believe that water prefigures water baptism, and the ark prefigures the Holy Spirit. However, the gospel of repentance and belief believes that the baptism that now saves us is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Now we’re ready to take a look at the final question concerning water baptism and that is, what is its purpose?

Endnotes

93IVP.

94Bible Knowledge Commentary/New Testament.

95Barnes.

96Calvin.

97The Bible Exposition Commentary/New Testament.

98UBS New Testament.

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My name is James Rondinone. I am a husband, father, and spiritual leader.

I grew up in Massachusetts and began my own spiritual journey early on in life.

I attended Bible college, having completed a two-year Christian Leadership Course of Study and graduated as valedictorian (Summa Cum Laude).

Studying and teaching the Word of God has been a passion of mine for over 20 years.

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