Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Bible teaching on baptismal regeneration

QUESTION:

Some scriptures clearly say that unless a sinner believes and is repentant and baptized, they are not saved. The Church of Christ claims this (I am not a member), and claims it is not a ‘work’ but still necessary for salvation.

David

ANSWER:

David:

Baptismal regeneration is the doctrine in question here, which means that one must repent and be baptized by water in order to be saved. These are common verses used by this group to indicate one needs to add repentance and water baptism to belief in order to be saved: Acts 2:38; 47; 5:14; 8:26-39, 22:16; Mark 16:16.

I think there are four ways to address this problem: one is to investigate the verse most likely to demonstrate their point, second look at the purpose of water baptism, third, examine the contradiction in the Bible if indeed we need to repent and be baptized in water in order to be saved. Fourth, I will address an issue in Bible interpretation.

The orthodox view of salvation’s requirement holds that it is based on faith alone. Paul said, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law…For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8). Paul’s major theme in Romans and Galatians is salvation by faith alone.

The best verse supporting Baptismal Regeneration view is Act 2:38, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The other verses need this verse to establish credibility.

1. First, let us look at “repent.” You will notice that “believe” is missing here. Or is it? Repentance (Greek: metanoia) simply means changing one’s mind about something that in some way affects one’s life. It may involve an emotion, such as regret, or simply a decision. In the verse in question, Peter is asking the hearers to change their mind about who Christ was, and what He did.

Everyone has some opinion, (i.e. belief) about Christ. Some don’t know who He is; some think He was a great teacher; some think he was a prophet – and the list goes on. Salvation means to change one’s mind (i.e. belief) about the Person and work of Christ as it relates to me personally.

The word “for” in the verse (Greek: eis) can also be translated, “because of.” Consequently, the verse can read, “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ because of the forgiveness of your sins.”

2. Baptism, in that culture, was a common rite that people went through indicating a conversion to or identification with a group of commonly held beliefs. John the Baptist baptized (Mark 1:4ff). Joining, as a Gentile, Judaism involved being baptized, as did joining other religious groups of that time. Baptism was a public declaration of joining a particular group.

In Peter’s case, surely he would require any converts to be baptized, because that would have been the ceremony indicating conversion to Christ. Jesus commanded converts to be baptized as a public act of identification (Matthew 28:19). Peter was acting on Christ’s command. Refusing to be baptized would call into question the sincerity of one’s conversion.

We have similar ceremonies today.  For example, Esmie, my wife, is a Filipina. When she became a United States citizen, there was a swearing in ceremony that she and a number of other people went through. They were required to publically raise their right hand and swear their allegiance to the United States.

Another Bible example is that of the thief on the cross (cf. Matthew 27:44 with Luke 23:39-43). In Matthew the record states that the “robbers” (plural) were casting insults at Christ. However, in Luke, one of the robbers changed his mind (repented) about Jesus. His insults stopped and shifted to asking for salvation. Jesus replied, “today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The thief did not have a chance to be baptized, join a church, or participate in any good works. He was saved on the spot.

3. If repentance (as something other than changing one’s mind) and water baptism is required for salvation, then there is a huge contradiction in the Bible. Jesus stated, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Which is it? Is it faith alone, or repentance (whatever that means to the people of baptismal regeneration) and baptism? I cannot be both.

Is Jesus the liar, or is it Peter? Or is Peter hopelessly confused, because he later said, “obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9)?

4. Several principles of Bible interpretation must be recognized. When discovering and establishing a doctrine from the Bible, there are at least three important principles that come to bear on this issue. First, never base a doctrine on one or two verses that are somewhat unclear in themselves. Second, gather all the relevant verses relating to a doctrine in order to get the entire picture or teaching. Third, as a presupposition, consider that the Bible does not have any contradictions. Consequently, fit all the verses together in such a way that they complement each other. Fourth, interpret fuzzy verses in light of plain, clear verses. Fifth, interpret any doctrine in light of the overall Bible teachings on the subject in question. Sixth, interpret verses in light of the historical, geographical and cultural context in which they appear.

If we apply just these six principles, then we would have to conclude that Baptismal Regeneration is not a valid biblical teaching.

Here is our standard “PS” that we decided to add to every answered question.

PS. David, I urge you to go to the “missions opportunity” section of this website. We have many exciting and effective ministries underway, including Bible colleges in Africa. The ministry is totally free to anyone who can benefit from it, but it does take our time and financial investment. Our primary target is Christians in third world nations who cannot afford solid Bible education, or simply don’t have access to it.

I ask you to spread the word about our website, and to become part of the ministry through prayer and financial support as God provides. We are a legit American non-profit organization. We need your help.

Dr. Newman

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