Thinking Cap # 16 - The Question: Must You be Baptized to go to Heaven?

Baptism.... If you're a good "Baptist," you just had all sorts of mental pictures from that one word. Most of them accurate I would suspect. But the word has also spawned some rather aberrant (my opinion) religious practices. Being raised a Methodist, I was baptised as a helpless infant. My wife, having been raised a Lutheran was taught that her baptism brought her "into God's family" and thus assured her of heaven (that's precisely what the liturgy said). But of more interest to me in this thinking cap is the question of whether or not you must be baptized to go to heaven.

It would certainly appear that John 3:5 teaches that concept. There is also the favorite verse "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mk. 16:16). I was taught in my mathematics classes that the word "and" in that verse means that both conditions must be satisfied in order for the condition to be true. Your thots please. Must one be baptized in order to go to heaven? Responses, if you're are so inclined are due by midnight, Friday, July 28.

I had a wonderful 3+ week vacation. Put on 5652 miles as we travelled from Florida to Wisconsin for my parents 50th Wedding anniversary. Was a very pleasant experience.

Drove east through the UP and across upper Ontario into French Quebec. Time with friends in northern Vermont, up Mt. Washington and four nights with the Olsons in rural, rustic and relaxing Maine. Checked out the Rockwell museum and spent a couple days in Bayonne, NJ, then on for a neat weekend with the Meldrims in Raleigh before returning home. I'd like to say I used the time to prepare this Thinking Cap response, but I'd be lying. I did read 3 great books though.

I heard from Bob B, Mike C, Martin O, and Brian H. Here is how I would handle the question at hand.

  • We have the evidence from the thief on the cross. He was not baptised, yet was told by Jesus that he would be with Him in paradise (nice holding tank prior to the 3rd Heaven) - Luke 23:42-43.
  • It is always dangerous to quote just a portion of a verse as was done in the question with Mark 16:16. It also violates the first of twenty-five rules of Bible Study (determine the context). If you read the rest of the verse, you will see that it wasn't baptism that was the key for salvation, but "belief."
  • The eighteenth rule of Bible study states that you should never base a doctrine on one verse or passage. Throughout the New Testatment and especially in the espitles (which should be where we in the "Church Age" draw our doctrine), we are told to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" and we shall be saved. There is no "work" including baptism that is attached to the belief. As a matter of fact the concept of the necessity of works is destroyed in several passages primarily Eph. 2:8-9. Thus, to use Jo. 3:5 and part of Mk 16:16 to demonstrate the need for baptism goes against the rest of the teachings of the Scripture.
  • The twenty-fifth rule (I'm starting to sound like a Farengee) of Bible study is the law of further mention - God has revealed truth progressively. God has brought men up through spiritual infancy to the advanced revelations of truth found in the New Testament. The method is given in Is. 28:10. For example, the revealing of the coming Messiah starts with a veiled promise in Gen. 3 and by the end of the Old Testament, we have over 300 prophetic statements regarding Jesus. Whenever approaching a passage of Scripture, we must have a sense of historical propriety. What could or, could not, have been believed and known at any given time. Moses knew that a Messiah was to come, but did not know where He would be born. John 3:5 in another example of this principle. Some have gone to great lengths to prove the doctrine of baptismal regeneration from that verse. But Christian baptism was not even in view at the time Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. Some suggest that the "water" was referring to the Word of God, or was an oblique reference to physical birth, or the water was some kind of cleansing agent (Ez. 36:25). A better approach would be to ask what would the words have meant to Nicodemus in the context in which they were spoken? He was of the Sandedrin who had investigated John's preaching and had rejected both him and his baptism of repentance. Now Jesus had a chance to clear the record. Nicodemus had to accept the "water" of repentence and the "Spirit" of regeneration to be saved. No easy believism and no salvation without repentance.
  • Finally, let's consider the actual word used for "baptize" in the early Gospels. Read Mark 1:1-4. We have in verse 4, "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." The word for "baptize" is *baptizo*. >From Thayer's definition, we have the following meaning:
  • to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (used of vessels sunk)
  • to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash oneself, to bathe
  • to overwhelm Not to be confused with *bapto.*
  • The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B. C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be `dipped' (bapto) into boiling water and then `baptized' (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptizing the vegetable, produces a permanent change.

    When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. For example, Mark 16:16. `He that believes and is baptized shall be saved'. Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real change, like the vegetable to the pickle!

    Have you been "pickled"

    Pleasant Thinking,
    Kent Haralson


    Return to Thinking Cap Homepage


    Copyright 1998 by the Gospel Martial Arts Union All rights reserved.