Mark 16:16

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


Surrounding Verses

Jesus appears to the eleven apostles and rebukes them for not believing those who said they had seen him alive again. Before ascending to heaven, he tells them to go into all the world, teaching, converting, and making disciples, and tells them that they will do so without having to worry about their safety and that their words will be confirmed by signs and miracles.


Mark Chapter 16



Scripture (According to Fundamental Baptist Understanding)

Baptism is not required for salvation, but is evidence of salvation. Salvation itself is through faith alone, as can be seen from the following verses: Acts 16:31, Romans 3:22, Romans 3:28, Romans 4:5.

Commentary in light of context

Taken by itself, this verse could be a compelling argument to say that Baptism is absolutely required for salvation. This is a concept known as baptismal regeneration. In fact, this single verse presents the strongest case for that very argument. However, close scrutiny of the verse and its context in reference to whom it is spoken, a bit of grammatical logic, and the clear teaching of the rest of scripture, shows that this verse's support of baptismal regeneration is shaky at best, and downright contrary at the worst.

For the wording of Mark 16:16 to be considered the strongest possible case towards baptism as a requirement for salvation, it would have to read, "He that is baptized shall be saved." This would leave us with 100% certainty that baptism is the way to Heaven. However, because the condition of belief is thrown in, which we know from the evidence of the rest of scripture is our salvation, the certainty of the necessity of baptism in this sentence is cut in half. Jesus could now be saying "He that believes shall be saved," and not be saying anything about those that believe but are not baptized. In fact, even more strength is lent to this interpretation by what comes after, "but he that believeth not shall be damned." This is certainly not worded as strongly as it could be in favor of baptismal regeneration, as "but he that is baptized not shall be damned," would be.

For a better example of interpreting the grammar of a verse as the strongest case for or against the efficacy of baptism for salvation, see John 3:36. Notice that baptism is not mentioned at all, only faith:

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

This should provide all of the clarity needed to determine if baptism is part of salvation. It is clear that it is faith alone that grants eternal life.

Another reason it is unwise to base such an important doctrine on this verse alone is its limited scope. Here, Jesus is talking to his disciples at a time that the idea of the Christian church hadn't yet "taken off". As the disciples were going into "all the world" it was quite possible that the people they came in contact with would never have another opportunity to be baptized. Also, the great commission was all about discipleship, for which baptism would have been a requirement.

It makes more sense that the "and is baptized" part of this verse is included to describe the type of faith that saves. Remember that because there were no churches at this this time, this might have been new converts' only chance to follow the Lord's command in baptism. What were you to think of people that professed to be saved, but then refused to follow Jesus' order to be baptized? It should cast serious doubt on their profession of faith—so much so that I think in this verse those people are equated with "unbelievers". James says that faith without works is dead, and Jesus himself says that if you love him, you will keep his commandments.

No honest exposition of this verse would be complete without pointing out that its textual basis has long been debated by scholars. Although I personally believe that the vast majority of greek texts support its inclusion in the Bible, it is omitted in texts that some very intelligent people suppose to be superior. Already we know that basing such an important doctrine on a disputed interpretation of a couple of verses is unwise, and all that much more so when people can't even agree on their origin.


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