A Review of “Water Baptism” by J. Walter Carpenter

By Ron Halbrook

The Program Services Dept. of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (P.O. Box 647, Brentwood, Tennessee 37027) is circulating a tract by J. Walter Carpenter entitled Water Baptism. God commended the people of Berea because they carefully examined the message of Paul by searching the scriptures daily, whether those things were so (Acts 17:11). Surely Mr. Carpenter and the Baptists of Tennessee will not object if we do the same thing.

The author of the tract says he had to study Greek and go to college majoring in Greek before he could show baptism was not necessary for the forgiveness of sins. It seems he once believed it was necessary as a part of “the plan of salvation” and even preached it from “the age of sixteen.” Apparently, if he had continued to preach what the Bible says in the English language, he would still be preaching baptism “is essential to salvation.” But after “hundreds of hours” study in “Greek grammar and the Greek text,” he finally decided he could write an article proving baptism is not necessary (contrary to the admitted teaching of the. English translations). This raises an interesting question. Cannot we find the truth in our English translations, or must we be Greek scholars to be saved? Many of us do well enough to understand ordinary English; if the Lord has hidden the truth from all but scholars of ancient histories, languages, and grammars, then many of us will be lost! The common man just cannot make it to heaven! It is strange indeed that when Christ taught, “the common people heard him gladly,” and when Paul preached, “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, nor many noble” answered the call of the gospel (Mark 12:37; I Corinthians 1:26).

“Jesus answered, verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Mr. Carpenter says on page three that John 3:5 does not refer to baptism. Being “born of water” refers to “natural physical birth.” This will not work because Nicodemus asked the Lord to explain the new birth, not the old one. Jesus said in verse 3, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The natural physical birth was no mystery to Nicodemus and he did not ask about it. But the idea of being “born again” did puzzle him, so he asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (vs. 4). Jesus spoke of being born again and Nicodemus asked how does it happen. When Jesus answered the question of how to be born again, he said, “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” No matter how hard men try to make it go away, Jesus put the water in the new birth just as surely as he put the Spirit.

“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Mr. Carpenter says in discussing this passage, “This Scripture bothered me more than any other” (pp. 4-7). He has decided baptism cannot be for the remission of sins for the following reasons:

(1) Salvation is ” ‘by grace’ on God’s part.” We all agree salvation is the gift of God’s grace. Nothing we can ever do can make us so wonderful and worthy that God would be obligated to save us. Still, a gift of God may be conditioned upon obedience; in other words, He gives the gift when we obey what He commands. In Joshua 6:2, “The Lord said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thins hand Jericho,” and in the next few verses He commanded the people to. march “about the city” for six days, one time per day, then seven times on the seventh day, and then to “blow with the trumpets.” When they obeyed, “the wall fell down flat” and they received the gift (vs. 20). A gift does not exclude obedience. Baptism is required for the gift of salvation.

(2) Salvation is ” `through faith’ on man’s part.” We all agree that faith is necessary for salvation, but faith does not exclude obedience. Faith pleases God and brings His grace when faith moves man to obedience. “By faith Abraham . . . obeyed” (Hebrews 11:8). Faith does not save before obedience, but faith saves at the point of obedience. By faith we must be baptized for the remission of sins.

(3) “We are saved by the blood of Jesus without any merit on our own.” Salvation by the blood of Christ does not exclude obedience. Christ shed his blood “for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28), yet we must be baptized “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). “Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), but “know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3).

(4) Mr. Carpenter says the word “for” in Acts 2:38 (“for the remission of sins”) is similar in meaning to the word “at” in Luke 11:32 (“at the preaching of Jonah”). In other words, we are to be baptized “at (by which he means because of) the remission of sins,” not for the remission of sins. He tries to make his argument by discussing technicalities of Greek grammar which it took him “hundreds of hours” to master.

Whether one knows Greek or English, he can understand the clear parallel of Acts 2:28 (“for the remission of sins”) and Matthew 26:28 (“for the remission of sins”). Matthew says Christ shed his blood ‘for the remission of sins.” What does that mean? (a) He shed his blood because of our sins having already been forgiven before he shed his blood? or (b) He shed his blood in order to obtain the forgiveness of our sins? The answer is obvious. Whatever “for the remission of sins” means in Matthew 26:28, it means in Acts 2:38. When Jesus shed his blood, that was the divine part in salvation-bringing remission of sins. When we . are baptized, that is our part in salvation-bringing remission of sins.

Furthermore, Mr. Carpenter will not apply his own explanation! He says, “Acts 2:38 may correctly be translated ‘repent and be baptized in (or on the basis of) the remission of sins.’ ” If this means one is saved before baptism, it means he is saved before repentance. But Mr. Carpenter does not believe one is saved before repentance because he says, “Repentance is clearly demanded as the first step.” So he thinks repentance is the very first thing that must happen before salvation. He destroys his own doctrine of repentance when he says Acts 2:38 means one must repent and be baptized to show that he is already saved.

Mr. Carpenter apparently claims to have studied the Greek very carefully as a Baptist. “When God gave me the answer from the Greek text I knew that I was a ‘Baptist’ . . . .” But Baptist scholars who have studied the Greek and translated the New Testament do not translate Acts 2:38 like Mr. Carpenter says it should be. Here is how his own Baptist scholars translate: (a) “Peter said to them, ‘You must repent-and, as an expression of it, let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ-that you may have your sins forgiven;” (Charles B. Williams Translation, 1950 edition). (b) ” ‘Repent,’ answered Peter, ‘and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins . . .’ ” (H. B. Montgomery Translation, 1924).

“And now why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Mr. Carpenter found it difficult to change the meaning of this verse, as he says, “This verse was the last to clear up for me.” After doing much additional study on “the Greek tense,” then giving much thought for “several years” more, he finally decided “that the phrase ‘and wash away thy sins’ logically went with the phrase which followed, ‘calling on His name.’ ” So then he decided “Paul was saved when he called on the Lord on the road to Damascus . . . .” Baptism would be needed only to show others “Saul had genuinely become a child of God ‘by means of calling on His name’ ” (see pp. 7-9).

If Saul had already been saved when he spoke to the Lord on the Damascus road, why does Ananias now tell him three days later, “Why tarriest thou? Arise . . . and wash away thy sins.”His sins were not yet forgiven!

It is true that “wash away thy sins” is connected to the last part of the verse (“calling on the name of the Lord”). But it is equally connected with the first part of the verse (“arise and be baptized”). The word “and” is a connecting word; “and” joins things together. A simple reading of the verse shows “wash away. thy sins” is joined and connected with “arise and be baptized” as well as with “calling on the name of the Lord.”

Mr. Carpenter ,makes two major errors: First, he says Paul’s sins were already washed away when the Bible says they were not. Ananias tells Paul to do what Mr. Carpenter says Paul had already done-“wash away thy sins.” Second, he chops off the first part of the verse and says “wash away thy sins” is connected only to the last part. We cannot chop up the Bible that way and please God.

“. . . In the days of Noah . . . few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:20-21). This is amazing! Mr. Carpenter is going to try to add the word “not” to 1 Peter 3:2021. The verse says in part, “baptism doeth also now save us” and Mr. Carpenter wants it to say that baptism doth also now not save us. Here are the arguments he gives to prove baptism does not save us (pp. 9-10):

(1) The people in the ark were saved “not by immersion, but by riding on top of the water.” But Peter’s comparison is not based on whether some one is in or on top of water; it is based on the simple fact of being “saved by water.”

(2) The people in the ark received “escape from death, not a salvation from sin.” Peter’s comparison l is not based on exactly what some one was saved from, but on the simple fact of being “saved by water.”

(3) “Only Jesus saves . . . .” Jesus is our only Savior, but he will save us only if we obey his will (Heb. 5:8-9). The question is not what Jesus does, but what we must do to receive salvation; the Bible says, “baptism doth also save us.”

(4) Baptism must be taken with the phrase “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh.” We agree the purpose of baptism is not to wash dirt off the body. The question is this: does baptism also now save us? What does the Bible say?

(5) Baptism is for “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” We agree on this. The question is, what shall we teach the consciences of people: (a) baptism doth also now save us? or (b) baptism doth also now not save us?

Mr. Carpenter’s effort to insert “not” in 1 Peter 3:21 is no better than Satan’s effort to insert “not” in Genesis 2:17 (“in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”).

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). Here is another amazing case. The Bible says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Mr. Carpenter tries to explain it so as to get the word “not” added in; he wants it to read, “He that believeth and is not baptized shall be saved.” Here are the reasons he gives for claiming Mark 16:16 does not require baptism for salvation (pp. 10-12):

(1) This is a “spurious” passage; that means someone “added” it to the Bible-a claim that simply means Mr. Carpenter wants to subtract it or take it out. Remember, he wants it out because it does not have not where he wants it.

(2) The verse might mean, “He that believeth and is committed (to Christ in heart and life) shall be saved.” If that is what it means, what must be done in order to become saved and fully committed to Christ? Be baptized! How does this help?

(3) “. . . salvation from sin is ‘by faith’ on man’s part . . . this `one essential’, is mentioned first . . . .” The verse does not say anything about one essential; it gives at least two. The verse includes faith, but he wants it to say “faith only’=”he that believeth only and is not baptized shall be saved.” Shall we obey Christ or Carpenter?

Mr. Carpenter’s last argument is that the Bible “will not permit the salvation of a soul from sin to be based upon faith plus any kind of work.” So, now he wants to take a “not” out of the Bible! Listen to James 2:24, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not q faith only.” The Bible says not by faith only. We must take either the word of men or the word of God-there is no middle ground.

The very scriptures Mr. Carpenter tries to remove still stand unmoved. The word of God liveth and abideth forever. Let us search the scriptures to know what is true. Then let us obey God’s word-“seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth” (1 Pet. 1:22).

Truth Magazine XIX: 29, pp. 458-460
May 29, 1975