BAPTISM FOR SALVATION: ITS BIBLICAL BASIS
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Friday, May 27, 2011 at 9:16am
QUESTION: Not long ago I had your course on “The Doctrine of Grace,” in which you discuss the issue of baptism. Personally, I accepted Christ as my Savior as an adult, but was not immersed until some years later. What was my spiritual status during that interim between my acceptance of Christ and my immersion?
ANSWER: The subject of baptism comes up in several places in my course on grace, but in that course I do not attempt to “set forth the Biblical case” for the doctrine of baptism as a salvation event. I have another course (“The Doctrine of Baptism”) where this is done. I also have written a small book (Baptism: A Biblical Study) to show the exegetical basis for the view that baptism is where salvation occurs. In that book (College Press, 2006 ed., 171pp.) I discuss twelve NT texts: Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; John 3:3-5; Acts 2:38-39; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-27; Ephesians 5:25-27; Colossians 2:11-13; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21. These are the passages that have something to say about the meaning or purpose of baptism.
In the introduction to this book I note that “the main problem underlying the modern confusion on baptism is thus not paucity of Biblical material, but rather an a priori commitment to certain theological presuppositions. It is so extremely difficult . . . to be objective when we try to interpret the Bible.” But, “with full awareness of the difficulties involved, our goal in this study is to examine the main NT passages on the meaning of baptism as if we were hearing or seeing them for the first time. How would the original hearers of certain key statements have understood them?” My goal in the book “is to let the texts speak as objectively as possible with a minimum of references to theological systems. Our main tools for understanding the texts will be linguistic, lexicographical, and background studies; and the time-honored hermeneutical rule of comparing Scripture with Scripture.”
After exegeting the twelve texts named above, I say this in the book’s conclusion: “What is remarkable is not only the fact that [these passages] do present baptism as the time God has appointed for initially bestowing salvation upon believing, repentant sinners, but also the fact that they are unanimous in doing so. This is not some obscure inference that must be laboriously forced from the fringes of a few texts, but is the central theme of them all! And at the same time, no other meaning emerges to serve in even a secondary role, much less to challenge the one main idea that baptism is for salvation.” I also declare that “no one can study these texts objectively and then deny that this is the meaning of baptism, without developing a troubled conscience. And just as baptism itself is an appeal to God for a good conscience, I present this book as an appeal to my friends and brethren to have a clear conscience about baptism. It can be done, if we are willing to listen to the voice of Scripture and to judge our traditions by its clear and pure words alone.”
Getting back to the course on grace, as I say above, I do not attempt in that course to try to “make a case” for my understanding of its meaning. My main concern there is to explain why the reality of salvation by grace does not rule out the idea of baptism for salvation. The two main points I discuss are the shakiness and ambiguity of the “faith only” (sola fidei) concept, and the fallacy of the concept of baptism as a “work” in the Pauline sense.
I would also refer the inquirer to several of my previous Facebook notes: “Is Baptism Essential for Salvation?” (11/19/09); “The Spiritual Status of the Unimmersed” (1/7/10); “Questions about the Essentiality of Baptism” (4/10/10); and “Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation” (8/20/10).
Finally, I noticed on the Amazon.com website yesterday that someone has recently (11/28/10) submitted a review of my book Baptism: A Biblical Study. No name is attached; the reviewer identifies himself as “A Disciplined Learner.” Anyone can access this review by looking up my book on that site. However, apologizing for my lack of humility, I will save you the trouble by sharing it with you here:
“During my 57-year lifetime, I have read dozens and dozens of books on the subject of baptism. This is the BEST BOOK I have ever read on the subject! It basically teaches that baptism is the time when a believer in Christ becomes a New Covenant Christian. It demonstrates this truth from the New Covenant Scriptures and shows it to be part-and-parcel of the faith once delivered unto the saints.
“Before I read this book, I was a Baptist pastor for over 25 years. As a Baptist pastor, I passionately preached and profusely wrote against the doctrine of baptismal remission, denouncing and dismissing it as a schismatic ‘Campbellite’ teaching. Carefully reading this book helped me to see the New Covenant baptismal passages in a brand new light. Today, I am totally convinced that baptism is the occasion when a believer in Christ becomes a New Covenant Christian. I am sure this is what the first New Covenant Christians believed and taught.”