Conversion: The Design of Baptism as Taught by Mark 16:16

By Cecil Willis

Our entire study of our last article was concerned with just one passage that teaches why men are to be baptized. We centered our thoughts around the command of the apostle Peter, when he ordered the inquiring Jews on the day of Pentecost to “repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). We reflected, quite at length, concerning the meaning of the expression “for the remission of sins.” It was seen that Christ used the same words, “for the remission of sins” in Matt. 26:28 when the disciples were told the purpose of His death. Whatever Christ meant when He said His blood was shed “for the remission of sins,” Peter also meant when he told man to be baptized “for the remission of sins.” Certainly Christ did not die because man’s sins had been forgiven, but he died in order that man’s sins might be forgiven. For this same reason, Peter says, we are to be baptized.

Furthermore, we pointed out that repentance and baptism were for the same purpose, and inasmuch as all admit that repentance is in order to remission, and not because of remission, then logically they must also admit that baptism is in order to receive the remission of sins, and not because of the remission of sins.

There are many passages in the New Testament which deal with the purpose of baptism, and we want to try to study one of the several passages on the subject. We want to investigate the Bible to see if it teaches, as do many preachers and churches, that baptism is a matter of indifference, and that it has absolutely nothing to do with one’s salvation.

After Jesus Christ had been crucified, and raised from the dead, and as He was preparing to ascend to the Father, He called the apostles about Him, and gave them some final instructions. He told them to spend their lives preaching, but He also told them what to preach. “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:15,16).

If one will think for a moment about this passage, he will see that one must do two things to be saved. He must believe and be baptized. This is the Bible’s doctrine. Try to visualize a blackboard, and one side of it, put the doctrine of the Bible from this passage. It would read like this: Belief plus baptism, equals salvation. On the other side of this mental blackboard, put what the majority of the denominationalists teach. On this side would be this equation: Belief minus baptism equals salvation. They teach that whether one is baptized or not, lie is still saved. Do plus and minus equal the same thing? Do they mean the same thing? The Lord said belief plus baptism equals salvation, and man says that belief minus baptism equals the same thing. Can this possibly be? Suppose one were to write the equation “2 + 2 = 4,” and then beneath it, another person were to write another equation, and said, “2 – 2 = 4.” When you questioned him concerning his equation, he might argue that plus and minus equal the same thing. The truth is, that 2 – 2 = the same thing that belief minus baptism equals-NOTHING! In this passage, it is seen that the Lord connects two things-belief and baptism with salvation, and the man does not live who can separate them and still get the same answer that was gotten when they were united.

Perhaps you are saying, “I have heard all of that argued before,” and therefore you are about to discard what I am saying as untrue. Friends, I hope that you have heard before, so that you cannot go to judgment and say that I did not know, but let me give one bit of exhortation, very humbly. Even though you have beard it before, answer it with scripture before you discard it, and if you do answer it with scripture, write me and. tell rue the answer in order that I might be saved, for if I preach error, I will be lost. No friend, this passage has not been, nor will it be answered, and until it is, by the help of God, I shall continue to use it, for it is the very language of the Lord.

Many denominationalists have confronted this passage and have utterly failed to harmonize it with their theory, and so they have adopted another means of dealing with it. They have done this passage just like Martin Luther did the book of James which teaches that one is not saved by faith alone. Martin Luther declared that the book of James was a “right strawy epistle,” ‘These denominational preachers have now come to contend that the part of the book of Mark from which this passage we have quoted is taken, is not inspired, but that it is an interpolation. They say that Mk. 16:9-20 is not a part of the original New Testament, but that it has been added later. They fail to notice that this passage is the only one of the gospel accounts of the great commission which mentions the doctrine of faith, but they failed to see this, for they were in such a mad rush to find some answer to the teaching of the Lord concerning the essentiality of baptism.

It is true that this part of the text is missing from two of the manuscripts. It is absent in the Vatican and the Sinaitic manuscripts. The men fail to notice though, that in these same manuscripts there are also other passages missing which they have traditionally accepted as genuine. The only reason why this scheme was ever devised was to get away from the teaching of the Lord on Baptism. These two manuscripts were not written by the Lord, nor by his apostles, but these manuscripts are very ancient copies of the Bible, dating about the Fourth Century.

It should be remembered that the many scholars who have had a part in the translating of the Bible from these ancient manuscripts, have deemed it vise to include these passages in the light of the evidence. In one translation in which mention is made that the passage had been questioned, it is placed in a footnote.

It should be remembered that we have several thousands of manuscripts from which the Greek text of the New Testament is derived, and in all but two of these manuscripts this passage is included. All of the ancient versions contain it.

In the Second Century, two hundred vears before the writing of the manuscripts from which the passage is omitted, Irenaeus quoted from the book of Mark, and quoted this particular passage, which indicates that two hundred years before the appearance of the manuscripts which are the basis of the objection, Irenaeus attributed it to Mark.

These denominationalists admit that if the inspiration of Mk. 16:9-20 is established, away goes their argument on the inessentiality of baptism, by the extremes to which they will go to prove their point. Even though the inspiration of this passage has been questioned by many preachers who teach that it is not necessary to be baptized, yet the truly great scholars have not questioned its inspiration. The reason that the passage has been omitted from the last part of the gospel according to Mark is because some have thought that perhaps Mark was not the author of the passage. The discussion has been over whether Mark wrote the passage, or whether some other inspired man wrote it, and had not been over whether it was inspired or not. The statement certainly would be of no less value if another apostle were its author. But some preachers have confused a discussion concerning authorship with genuineness, or inspiration, and have therefore missed the entire point.

I frankly confess to you that I would be very careful about believing a doctrine whose truthfulness rested upon proving that a certain passage in the Bible was not inspired.

Notice the sixteenth verse again: Christ said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” In this passage, the Lord told us that a certain man or a certain group of individuals may be saved. If one were to diagram the sentence, he would find the independent clause, or the principle sentence to be “He shall be saved.” But certainly the Lord does not mean that just any “he” shall be saved, for if that were true, then there could not be any lost, and it would become a matter of indifference as to whether one obeyed the gospel, believed in God, had faith in Christ or not. This would mean universalism (or, the salvation of everyone) if the passage be left to say simply “He shall be saved.” But the Lord qualified the principle sentence, “He shall be saved,” by telling us which “he” shall be saved. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Christ said that there are two conditions that one must meet before he can be saved. Christ said that the individual who believes and is baptized shall be saved.

What men have done is to make one of these conditions binding on all men, and make the other optional. They have changed the meaning of what the Lord said. Thev make it imperitive for one to be a believer, but then contend that baptism is not necessary. Christ said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” and who is the man that has the authority to change what he said, and say “He that believeth and is not baptized shall be saved.”

Two things are required in order to be saved. It is sald that one must believe the gospel and must obey it, or that He must believe and be baptized. By the same authority that man can remove one of these conditions, another inan could remove the other. By the same token that removes baptism from the realm of the essential, someone else may say that faith is also unnecessary. As for me, I am going to leave them exactly like the Lord did, and say that before a man has any promise of salvation, he must believe arid be baptized.

Men who have not been satisfied with the conditions of salvation as stipulated by the Lord have always tried to “explain away” what He said, and therefore they have niade arguinents on this passage seeking to show that the Lord did not really mean what He said, and that baptism is not actually necessary to one’s salvation. Justice and fairness demand that we study their argument to see if they prove what they say they do. The most frequently used argument seeking to show that baptism is not necessary is this. They quote the passage, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but He that disbelieveth shall be condemned,” aiid say that the Lord did not say “but he that disbelieveth and is not baptized shall be condemned.” That is verv true. The Lord did not sav that. But because the Lord did not specify that one had to fail to believe and also fail to be baptized, mav one log.ically argue that this implies that baptism is inessential to one’s salvation?

Bible teaching is that before one may scripturally be baptized, He must be a believer. One would not receive the remission of his sin, if He were an unbeliever, and someone were to put him beneath the water. Faith is a very essential element. Neither would one receive the remission of his sins if he should be baptized, even though H was a believer, but had not repented. We studied in a previous lesson that one also had to repent in order to be saved. While one has to do both the things commanded in order to receive the promise, he may fail to do only one of them, and consequently fail to receive the promise, Jesus said: “He that believeth on him is not judged: He that believeth not hath been judged already, because he liath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God” (Jn. 3:18).

Let me try to illustrate the Lord’s teaching. The Lord commanded two things, or made two conditions that must be fulfilled if one is to receive the promise of salvation. He said “he that believeth (Command No. 1) and is baptized (Command No. 2) shall be saved (The Promise), but He that disbelievuth shall be condemned.” Suppose I were to tell you this. He that cuts a cord of wood (Command No. 1) and stacks it (Command No. 2) shall receive $10 (The Promise), but he that cuts not the wood shall receive nothing.” Cutting the wood and stacking it would be parallel in sentence structure to the Lord’s command to believe and be baptized. The $10 offered for cutting the wood, and the salvation from sins would also be parallel in the sentences for they are both the promises or the rewards promised. Suppose you were to do only one thing that I told you that you must do in order to receive the $10, would you expect to receive the money? Certainly not! Suppose you were to go out and cut the cord of wood, but did not stack it, and came in expecting to receive the $10, just as the people who believe aud do not obey the gospel by being baptized, would I owe you the $10 for doing only one thing that I commanded? Surely not! Suppose you said, “But sir, -You did not say that he that cutteth not the wood, and does not stack it, shall receive nothing, and therefore I think you still owe me the money,” would that change my obligation any? I would not have to say that the man who does not cut the wood, and who does not stack it will receive nothing, for one could not stack the wood until it had been cut, and therefore it would be foolish to make such a statement. Neither can one scripturally be baptized before He believes the gospel.

I believe that one can understand the gospel. I believe that you can understand the statements of the Lord concerning the plan of salvation. In fact, you must secure the help of some false teacher to misunderstand a commandment of the Lord so plain as the one we have discussed. Therefore I confidently proclaim that baptism is necessary to salvation, and simply cite this passage to prove it: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but He that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:16).

Truth Magazine XX: 40, pp. 627-629
October 7, 1976