Baptismal Confusion


June 13, 2012 by mattfradd

The intellectual price tag attached to denying baptismal regeneration is at least threefold.

1. One must first explain why the seemingly unambiguous statements made by Christ and the apostles regarding the necessity of baptism mean something else.

Here are three Scripture passages addressing the nature of baptism followed by three attempted refutations of baptismal regeneration:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5

“…The water which Jesus refers to is amniotic fluid (ie the liquid surrounding and protecting an unborn child while in its mother’s womb). Thus, Jesus was explaining to Nicodemus that one must be born of both a woman and the Spirit…”1

“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:16

“…He that believeth and is baptized-Baptism is here put for the external signature of the inner faith of the heart, just as “confessing with the mouth” is in Ro 10:10…”2

“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, ” 1 Peter 3:21

“It may very well be that baptism refers to the Ark, not the waters which may be why the rest of the verse says, “not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God” which is consistent with what Paul said in Col. 2:11-12 where He equates baptism with being circumcised of heart. In other words, Peter clarifies that it isn’t the water baptism that saves, but the appeal to the heart.”3

For further research on what Christ and the apostles taught about Baptism:

Lord Jesus (Matthew 1:21, 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-17; Luke 24:45-47; John 3:5, 5:43, 14:26, 20:20-23),

St. Peter (Acts 2:38, 4:10-12, 8:16; 10:36-48; 1 Peter 3:20-21),

St. Paul (Acts 9:18, 16:15-33, 18:8, 19:1-6, 22;16; Romans 6:15, 10:13; 1 Corinthians 1:1-21; Galatians 3:26-28; Colossians 2:9-12, 3;17; Titus 3:5

2. Secondly, one must then explain why his personal interpretation is in head on collision with the interpretation of the earliest Christians.

The early Church Fathers were unanimous in their belief that baptism was the normative means of our salvation.

Let me demonstrate by offering two examples:


Hermas wrote around the year AD 80 in Rome and was known for his work “The Shepherd”. Origen of Alexandria, another early Church Father reports that it is this Hermas who Paul explicitly mentions in his letter to the Romans 16:14.

Here’s what he has to say:

“And I said, “I heard, sir, some teachers say that there is no other repentance than what takes palce when we descended into the water and received remission of our former sins.” He said to me “That was sound doctrine you heard; for that is really the case”. [The Shepherd 2:4:3 (C. A.D. 80)]


And finally let’s take a read of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest theologians of all time who lived in the 4th and 5th century said,

“Baptism, therefore, washes away indeed all sins – absolutely all sins, whether of deeds or words or thoughts, whether original or added, whether committed in ignorance or allowed in knowledge.” [Against Two Letters of the Pelagians 3:5 (c. A.D. 420)]

Who first denied baptismal regeneration?

You might be wondering, “Well where did the belief that baptism was merely a symbol originate?” The first prominent individual to deny baptismal regeneration – that I’m aware of – was Protestant reformer Ulrich Zwingli who lived in the 16th Century! Zwingli seems to understand the intellectual price required of denying baptismal regeneration when he writes in his article “De Baptismo”,

“In this matter of baptism – if I may be pardoned for saying it – I can only conclude that all the doctors have been in error from the time of the apostles.”4

3. Thirdly one must explain why the Church, of whom Christ promised the Spirit would “guide…into all the truth,” is still confused as to the nature of Baptism after 2000 years.

Lutherans believe in baptismal regeneration, The Church of Christ does not. Calvinists believe you can baptize babies, Baptists do not. Anglicans (as well as most Protestant denominations) believe you should baptize in the name of the Trinity, The United Pentecostal Church believes you should not.

As a Catholic I can believe that 1. Christ and the apostles meant what they said. 2. That the unanimous consent of the early Church Fathers is accurate and 3. The Church Christ established has the authority to speak for God in matters of faith and morals. Aaah – that’s a comforting truth.

“The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.” (CCC 1257)




4. Zwingli and Bullinger, pg. 130.

11 thoughts on “Baptismal Confusion

  1. This will be fun. 🙂

  2. First of all:

    Why would the authors leave out such a vital step? If I was coming to your house to save your family from death, what kind of person would I be in I only gave half the information necessary to do so?

    Baptism can definitely be demonstrated to be an act of obedience one does after they have received salvation. But the Bible does not say ANYWHERE that an unbaptized believer is not saved. It also does not say ANYWHERE that a person cannot be saved without water baptism. In fact, NOT ONCE in the entire book of 1 John is it ever stated that water baptism is a condition of salvation. Not once. And the explicit purpose of that gospel is so that people can know how to be saved.

    As for baptism as a requirement for salvation, we also need to learn more about the context and culture of the time. People say, “Look, Acts 2:38 says, ‘Repent, and be baptized . . . .’ How do you get around the fact that Peter said you’ve got to get baptized to be saved?” We must remember that when we are discussing the words of Peter we are speaking of a man who worked almost exclusively with Jews. Paul tells us that he (Paul) worked mostly with Gentiles while Peter worked primarily with Jews. This makes things much more simple to understand, actually. Luke 18 contains a helpful illustration. Look at verse 18: “And a certain ruler asked Him [Jesus], saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Now, that’s a good question. In fact, it’s basically the same question the people asked in Acts 2:37.

    Skipping down to verse 22b, Jesus answered his question, and said, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Is Jesus saying that salvation is an issue of economics? Is He saying that in order to be saved, a person has to hock everything and then give all the money to the poor? Of course not! Salvation isn’t a question of economics. It isn’t a question of giving all one’s money to the poor. You say, “Well, that’s what He said!” No, that’s not what He said. Look again at verse 22. After telling this man to sell all that he had and to give the money to the poor, Jesus then said, “. . . and come, follow Me.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “There’s a barrier in your way, my good man! You’re never going to know salvation until you give up your one big hang-up – money.” You see, Jesus read his heart and knew that this young ruler loved money. And the reason we know that Jesus’ analysis was correct is because the guy turned around and went home. He wanted his money more than he wanted eternal life.

    The point is this: It’s not until you want Jesus Christ more than anything else that the conditions are removed. As long as God knows there’s something in the way, He’ll point it out. The biggest stumbling block to Jewish conversion was the fear of persecution, being “unsynagogued,” and being put out of their whole Jewish world. So Peter says, “I know that’s your problem. so that’s what you’re going to have to get out of the way.” They had to be baptized as a public acknowledgment that they were naming the name of Jesus Christ – fully aware of what it was going to cost them to do so. They were used to going to the Mikveh and being regularly baptized in preparation for holy days, spiritual purification, or in anticipation of the coming Messiah. Now they had to do it in the name of Jesus, who their Jewish friends did NOT accept as that Messiah. Peter told them they had to make that sacrifice.

  3. Mark 16:16 – 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
    Please note the explanation. Jesus frequently clarified what he meant, and does so again here: he who does not believe will be condemned. Belief is the important part. A person who “believes and is baptized” is saved, but the second part, the clarification, illustrates that LACK OF BAPTISM does not condemn anyone. Otherwise he would have said, “But he who does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned. He doesn’t mention condemnation, however.

    SCRIPTURE WILL NOT CONTRADICT ITSELF. It harmonizes! Ephesians 2:8 does not mention baptism.

    For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

    John 5:24 Most assuredly, I say to you,he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

    John 1:12: But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

    John 20:31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

    Romans 1:12 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

  4. Also, using what the early church founders believed to be true is not a good argument. The beliefs of those who disagreed with them were silenced, especially after Constantine became a Christian. That’s why it was only recently (mid 1900s) that the lost gospels were found hidden in a jar at Nag Hammadi: they’d been hidden there because anything that disagreed with the “official church doctrine” was silenced and destroyed. So saying that early church founders believed X, Y or Z is rather ineffective, because writings that were labeled “heretical” and contrary to “official” belief were destroyed.

  5. As Jenny on my Facebook post pointed out, Romans 10:9-10 says:

    9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

  6. mattfradd says:

    Thank you Donny, there is more on my plate than I have the time to deal with but perhaps I can respond to your general points.

    1. You seek to deal with the first intellectual price tag by quoting various Scripture passages. You then attempt to exegete the passages. I’d be happy to respond to each of them if you’d like but for now allow me to address a more fundamental issue.
    Question: Are you fallible?
    Answers: Yes.
    Question: Given that you are fallible, could your interpretation of these passages be incorrect? Answer: Yes.
    Question: Why should I accept your fallible interpretation of the Scriptures when A. No early Church Father ever claimed that baptism was merely symbolic. B. The first prominent Christian to disagree with Baptismal regeneration lived in the 16th Century and C. Those Christians who deny baptismal regeneration are the absolute minority in Christendom?

    You assert, without any evidence, that the Catholic Church silenced anyone who disagreed with her. And insinuate that the Church became even more corrupt after the time of Constantine.

    And yet it was this “corrupt” Church which defined the divinity of Christ in 325 at the council of Nicaea in 325 and the Divinity of the Holy Spirit in 1 Constantinople 381. Why accept these declarations from a “corrupt” Church? I imagine you’ll say, “Because it’s plain from the passages of Scripture.” But don’t forget which Church declared which books were and were not inspired in 382 at the council of Rome by Pope Damasus the 1st. Perhaps this “corrupt” Church silenced all of those “real” scriptures that plainly stated that Chirst and the Holy Spirit were not Divine…Please note the friendly sarcasm in my words 🙂

    Thanks Donny.

  7. Corrupt? I think that’s quite the jump. It’s not necessary to use such adjectives in this discussion. Doing so seems to be an attempt to undermine my points. I have plenty of sources, Matt. Here are a few:

    Tertullian complained that “questions make people heretics” and demanded that people stop asking them and instead accept the “rule of faith”. (Tertullian, “Prescription Against Heresies”).

    St. Athanasius of Alexandria sought to censor anything that wasn’t considered “Orthodox” and silence all views that differed from accepted church beliefs. He worked hard to make sure Christians could not read “any books except the common catholic books.”(Anthanasius, “Canons of Athanasius”).

    Constantine gave special exemptions and legal privileges to Catholic Christians, and cut off or excluded those did not agree with Catholic teachings, believing that “outside the church there is no salvation.” In 324 he legislated an end to all “heretical” sects and ordered their property to be confiscated and their books burned. (Barnes, “Constantine and Eusebius”, pg 224).

    I can go on and on about this. The point is that there were MANY who did not accept the views of the Catholic Church, from the very beginning. So quoting what “church founders” believed is only good when you’re preaching to the choir.

  8. Again, there are more than TWICE as many scriptures in the accepted canon that mention salvation as being by faith/belief/grace WITHOUT mentioning baptism, as there are scriptures that reference it. And again, 1 John is emphatic as being written so that we will KNOW we have salvation, and it DOES NOT mention baptism as one of those conditions.

  9. Also, disagreeing does not mean denouncing. And citing factual occurrences does not mean one is accusing the Catholic Church of corruption.

    Of COURSE “church fathers” will agree with the position you are taking on this issue, because if they did NOT agree… THEY WOULDN’T BE CHURCH FATHERS. They’d be amongst those labeled heretics, and their writings would have been destroyed long ago. That’s not rocket science.

  10. To me I look at it this way, lets start with the basics.

    Protestants say you can be saved by Faith Alone.

    Catholics say you need Faith and Good Works.

    If the Catholics have it wrong and you go with their belief, your still ok. If the protestants have it wrong and you go with their belief you could be in trouble. (note: some protestant groups also claim you need Good Works)

    Let’s look at it with Baptism. Now some Protestants say you require Baptism so we require a set of groups.

    So lets look at it this way.

    Group A say you just Need Faith.

    Group B say you Need Faith and Good Works

    Group C say you Need Faith and Baptism

    Group D say you Need Faith, Good Works and Baptism.

    Now if Group D have anything wrong, they still cover the requirements of C, B and A

    However if you go with group A B or C you could be in trouble.

    To me it is simple common sense, why argue it. Will Baptism hurt ?

    There was a time I wasn’t for Baptism, but after being Baptised it was one of the best experiences of my life. Sometimes we don’t realise the “Benefit” of something until we have actually done it, then we realise it was the right thing to do. All it takes is a little faith 🙂

  11. […] more? You should listen to my hour radio interview on Catholic Answers Live, and read my article, Baptismal Confusion, which examines some Protestant objections and sees what the earliest Christians after the Apostles […]

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