The “suppose one dies before he can be baptized” argument
Matt Slick in the article “Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?” on carm.org puts the argument this way, “Let’s… suppose that this person confesses his sinfulness, cries out in repentance to the Lord, and receives Jesus as Savior, and then walks across the street to get baptized at a local church. In the middle of the road he gets hit by a car and is killed. Does he go to Heaven or Hell? If he goes to Heaven, then baptism is not necessary for salvation. If he goes to Hell, then trusting in Jesus by faith is not enough for salvation.”
Others might word the argument this way, “What if a man or woman is on their death-bed and can’t be baptized?”
Or “What if somebody learns the gospel in the desert but there’s no water around to be baptized, and the person dies before he can ever find enough water to be baptized?”
The argument assumes that it would be uncharacteristic of God to condemn such a person and thus such a person would be saved without baptism, and it assumes that therefore baptism is not necessary for the rest of us who are not in a predicament of being unable to be baptized.
Well, if that argument is legitimate to show that baptism is unnecessary then we don’t even have to believe in Jesus to be saved. Think about it. Let’s say you’re teaching the story of Jesus to a man who has never heard anything about Him. And this man has a good and honest heart and he will believe in Christ when he hears the gospel. But part way through you telling him the story of Jesus he has a heart attack all the sudden and dies. He would have believed if he heard the rest of the story. But he died before. So using the logic of the “suppose death before baptism” argument this guy would be saved without faith in Christ and thus faith in Christ is not necessary.
Also, we should consider that though God may or may not save a person in a unique situation who dies before he can comply with God’s terms of salvation, does that mean that the rest of us who can comply with His terms don’t need to? Does the possibility of God making an exception to the rule mean that we should throw out the rule? Certainly not.
Another thing to consider when you think about these hypothetical scenarios is, would God even allow such situations to happen? God knows the hearts of every individual on His earth, whether they’re willing to trust and obey Him or not (I Chron 28:9). God’s desires all to be saved (I Tim 2:4; II Pt 3:9). And He is at work in this world behind the scenes for the salvation of souls (Matt 5:6; 7:7; Acts 8:26,29; 10:1ff; 16:9-10; 18:9-10; Phil 1:6,21-25; Philemon 15). That leads me to think that God would not allow these hypothetical scenarios to happen. If someone is willing to believe and give their life to the Lord and be baptized, I suspect God will so work in that person’s life to give them the time and opportunity to do so.
I Corinthians 1:14
I’ve heard that Paul’s statement in v14, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius” shows that Paul did not think baptism was essential.
The author of the article entitled “Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?” on gotquestions.org used this passage against the necessity of baptism and said, “If baptism is necessary for salvation, Paul would literally be saying, ‘I am thankful that you were not saved…'”
But they’re twisting Paul’s words. Paul does NOT say ,”I thank God that you were not baptized…” He says “I thank God that I baptized none of you…” In other words he’s thankful that his fellow workers, like Silas and Timothy, were the ones that baptized them, rather than himself. Every one of these Christians in Corinth had been baptized. I Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free…” (See also Acts 18:8). It was not that Paul left them unbaptized. It’s just that Paul had his assistants do most of the baptizing. A similar situation can be seen in John 4:1-2 where it says that Jesus was making even more disciples than John, but He was having His disciples do the baptizing.
And the reason Paul is thankful now that he had his assistants do the baptizing rather than do it himself he states in v15. “so that no one would say you were baptized in my name.” Paul had heard from Chloe’s people that there was division in Corinth, factions that each identified themselves as being of a different preacher than the others. Some were saying, “I am of Paul” others “I of Apollos” others “I of Cephas” and others “I of Christ” (I Cor 1:10-12). Paul can imagine that if he had baptized a bunch of folks there in Corinth, some there likely would have used that to say that Paul wanted to have his own disciples, his own sect, his own denomination, that “He baptized a bunch of you in his own name.” That is the reason that Paul is thankful now in retrospect that he had his assistants do the baptizing and he didn’t do it himself. It because his actions would have likely been misinterpreted by some misguided brothers there in Corinth.
So Paul’s statement in v14 shows nothing about how important Paul saw baptism. For how important Paul saw it see Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-4; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-27; Ephesians 5:26; Colossians 2:11-12; Titus 3:5.
I Corinthians 1:17
I’ve also heard that Paul’s statement in v17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” shows that baptism is not essential.
John MacArthur says that Paul here is, “differentiating the gospel from baptism.” Another author says of this verse, “Please note the juxtaposition between baptism and the Gospel message. Baptism is not an essential part of the Gospel.”
They’re saying that Paul is contrasting two different subjects of preaching, the subject of baptism and the subject of the gospel. But read the verse again. Paul is not contrasting two different subjects of preaching. He is rather contrasting two different works. He is contrasting the work of baptizing with the work of preaching the gospel. And Paul is simply saying that the primary job that Christ gave him was to preach the gospel. Others could do the baptizing.
The author I quoted earlier from gotquestions.org said of this statement from Paul, “If baptism is necessary for salvation, Paul would be literally saying… ‘For Christ did not send me to save.'”
But this is flawed logic. Consider this statement an American football quarterback could make. “The coach did not send me out here to block linemen, but to hand off and throw the ball to running backs and receivers.” Does that mean that blocking linemen is not essential to scoring touchdowns? Absolutely not. The QB is just saying his primary job is to handoff and throw the ball. Others are to block the linemen. Now, the QB may do some blocking of linemen after he dishes the ball off to a running back, but it’s just not his primary job. Likewise, Paul is not at all saying that baptizing is not part of saving souls. He’s just saying that his primary job is to preach.
Also, those who use this verse against the necessity of baptism seem to ignore the meaning of the common idiom in the Bible, “Not this, but that.” There are many places in the NT where the language of “Not this, but that” does not negate one of the two items under consideration. Instead it just prioritizes them. Here’s some examples:
- John 6:27, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life…” Does that mean that we are not to work for food which perishes at all? No (II Thess 3:7-12). He’s just saying that the spiritual food should be our priority.
- Acts 5:4 Peter tells Ananias, “You have not lied to men but to God.” Of course he had lied to men, but most importantly he had lied to God.
- You could notice also Jer 7:22-23; Matt 5:17; 10:34; Mark 9:37; Luke 10:20; 14:12-13; John 12:44; I Cor 7:4; I Pt 3:3-4.
In a similar way when Paul says “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,” he is saying, “Christ sent me first and foremost to preach the gospel. That’s my primary job. Baptizing is secondary. I usually have others do that for me.”
I Corinthians 15:1-4
Another argument I’ve run across a couple times uses I Corinthians 15:1-4, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…”
The author of the article “Is baptism necessary for salvation?” on gotquestions.org says “When Paul gives a detailed outline of what he considers the gospel (I Cor 15:1-8), why does he neglect to mention baptism? If baptism is a requirement for salvation, how could any presentation of the gospel lack a mention of baptism?” John MacArthur says, ” In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul gives a concise summary of the gospel message he preached. There is no mention of baptism.” Matt Slick at carm.org in an article entitle “Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?” says, “It is clearly the Gospel that saves us, but what exactly is the Gospel? That, too, is revealed to us in the Bible. It is found in 1 Cor. 15:1-4:” (and he quotes the verses, then says) “The Gospel is defined as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for our sins. Baptism is not mentioned here.”
The problem with their argument is that they are asserting that Paul is telling us what the whole gospel message is in I Corinthians 15:3-8. But where does Paul say this is the whole gospel? Where does he say the gospel is just the death, burial and resurrection of Christ? He doesn’t. What he says is that the death, burial and resurrection of Christ are matters “of first importance” (v3), but not that they constitute the whole gospel.
The gospel Paul preached included many other elements than what he mentions here in I Corinthians 15.
- It included “the hope laid up for you in heaven.” Colossians 1:5, “… because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel“
- It included the fact that “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” Romans 2:16, “… on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” (See also Luke 3:15-18)
- It included all that you read in the book of Mark. Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
- It included Christ’s conditions for salvation. It was a message to be obeyed. II Thessalonians 1:7-8, “… the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” I Peter 4:17, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?“
- It included repentance. Compare the parallel passages Mark 6:12 and Luke 9:6. When Jesus sent out the twelve in pairs to preach and cast out demons and heal, Mark 6:12 says, “They went out and preached that men should repent.” Luke 9:6 says, “Departing, they began going throughout the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” Preaching that men should repent was part of preaching the gospel. It was one of those parts of the message that had to be obeyed (II Thess 1:8; I Pt 4:17).
- It included baptism. Notice the response of the Samaritans to Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ to them. Acts 8:12, “when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.” Notice the response of the Ethiopian Eunuch to Philip preaching “Jesus” (the gospel) to him. Acts 8:35-36, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Notice the response of Lydia to “the things spoken by Paul” (the gospel). Acts 16:14-15, “A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household had been baptized…” Notice the response of the Philippian jailer and his household to Paul and Silas speaking “the word of the Lord” (the gospel) to them. Acts 16:32-33, “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.” It appears from the fact that baptism was an immediate response to hearing and believing the gospel that baptism was included in the preaching the gospel. It was one of those parts of the gospel that had to be obeyed (II Thess 1:8; I Pt 4:17).
Mark 16:16, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”
MacArthur voices what many are saying today about this verse when he says, “Mark 16:16, a verse often quoted to prove baptism is necessary for salvation, is actually a proof of the opposite. Notice that the basis for condemnation in that verse is not the failure to be baptized, but only the failure to believe. Baptism is mentioned in the first part of the verse because it was the outward symbol that always accompanied the inward belief.”
So it’s asserted that because Jesus did not say, “he who has disbelieved and has not been baptized shall be condemned,” because He only said, “he who has disbelieved shall be condemned,” that that means baptism is not necessary for salvation.
But that’s flawed reasoning. Consider a couple similarly structured statements one could make.
- Like, “He who eats and digests shall be nourished, but he who does not eat shall starve.” Does that mean that digestion, because it wasn’t mentioned in the second half of the statement, is unnecessary to nourishment? No. It doesn’t need to be mentioned because if somebody doesn’t eat then of course they are not going to digest either. It doesn’t need to be said, “he who does not eat and does not digest shall starve.”
- Or how about, “He who makes it through airport security and boards the plane shall fly, but he who does not make it through security will stay on the ground.” Does that mean that boarding the plane is not necessary for flying because it wasn’t mentioned in the second half of the verse? Certainly you can see the flawed logic many are using with Mark 16:16 today.
Jesus speaks here about two kinds of hearers of the gospel. He speaks first of those who believe and thus are baptized as He commands. He says they will be saved. And then He speaks of those who do not believe and thus are probably not going to be baptized either, but even if for some reason they are baptized, it doesn’t matter because they don’t believe. Those who don’t believe, Jesus says, will be condemned. Jesus does not speak of a 3rd kind of hearer of the gospel, as we might, called “he who believes but is not baptized.” Since Jesus does not speak of that 3rd kind of hearer of the gospel in this verse it is misusing this verse to say that it indicates that that kind of person is okay.
And perhaps in Jesus’ mind among accountable people there are only these 2 kinds of hearers of the gospel. There are those who believe and are baptized. And then there are those don’t believe. Baptism and true belief in the true gospel go together. True belief in the true gospel moves one to be baptized. If one will not be baptized, it reveals that they don’t really believe the true gospel. This fits with the general teaching of Scripture that true faith in God and His word manifests itself in obedience. Disobedience reveals a lack of faith. Why were the Israelites in the wilderness disobedient and rebellious to the will of God and not allowed to enter the promised land? Unbelief, says Hebrews 3:18-19. Faith moved the Christian recipients of the Hebrew letter to endure persecution for doing the will of God (Heb 10:32-39). Faith moved Abel to offer a better sacrifice than Cain (Heb 11:4). Faith moved Enoch to please God in his life (Heb 11:5). Faith moved Noah to build the ark (Heb 11:7). Faith moved Abraham to obey God’s call to go to the land he was to receive as an inheritance and live there as a foreigner (Heb 11:8-9) and to offer up Isaac (Heb 11:17; James 2:21-22), etc. “The one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind… double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-7). A man who kind of believes, but kind of doesn’t is back and forth in following the ways of the Lord. Faith and obedience go hand and hand in the Bible.
Some use Revelation 3:20 to teach that one can be saved by simply asking Jesus into his or her heart without baptism. Revelation 3:20 are words of Jesus saying, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”
But to use this verse to support the idea that one can be saved by saying the “sinner’s prayer” without baptism is to ignore the context in which it is stated. Jesus is not talking to non-Christians who have never been saved about how to be saved. Jesus is talking here to people who were already Christians. He is talking to the lukewarm church in Laodicea (Rev 3:14), who needed to repent of their lukewarmness, rekindle their zeal for the Lord (Rev 3:15-19). And it is by means of repentance and being zealous for the Lord again that they would “open the door” for Jesus. Notice especially v19 right before Jesus’ exhortation to them to open the door for Him.
– James Williams