By Paul J. Casebolt
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned (Mk. 16:15,16, KJV).
This last charge which Jesus gave to his disciples is sometimes called the Great Commission, distinguishing it from earlier commissions given to the twelve (Matt. 10:1 f), and the seventy (Lk. I0:lf). These earlier commissions were limited in that they applied only to fleshly Israel, and the apostles had not yet received a baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4,5).
But these “commandments” (Acts 1:2), which were given to the apostles just before Christ “was taken up,” were to include Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles (Acts 1:8). Or, as Matthew and Luke say, “all nations,” and as Mark says, “all the world” and “every creature.” That includes you and me.
As preachers, one of our earliest efforts was to deliver a “short talk” and “extend the invitation.” And even a novice preacher could read, quote, or make a few remarks about Mark 16:16.
The “whosoever will” of the gospel is contained in, and demanded by, the preacher of that gospel (Rom. 1:16; 10:13). Our preaching should find its climax in the grand invitation which is commensurate with the gospel. Of course, if our preaching doesn’t contain much of the gospel, then it is not likely to be characterized or much embellished by a fervent exhortation to heed what we didn’t preach in the first place.
The growth of the first and nineteenth church hinged upon the preaching, understanding, and reception of such Scriptures as Mark 16:15,16. Even in the twentieth century, a few of us have been privileged to see that growth approximated in such countries as the Philippines, India and Africa. The churches of Christ in America need to give more, not less, emphasis to this matter, and be diligent “in remembrance of these things.”
Credibility of Mark 16:15,16 — Parallel Passages
One of the basic efforts to destroy the force of Mark 16:15,16 is to eliminate the passage altogether, along with vv. 9-20. Some contend that the last 12 verses of Mark 16 are not authentic, since they did not appear in two of the earliest Greek manuscripts. But the credibility of this passage is not only confirmed by other manuscripts, but also by parallel passages in Matthew, Luke and John.
Every subject treated in Mark 16:9-20 — testimony of witnesses to the resurrection, the preaching of the gospel, belief, baptism, salvation, unbelief, the miracles of confirmation performed by the apostles — is abundantly confirmed in other New Testament epistles.
Matthew 28:18-20 — In this passage, Jesus declares his authority and commands the apostles to go and teach all nations, baptize, and further instruct those who were baptized.
Luke 24:46-49 — Based on his death, burial and resurrection, Christ said, “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (v. 47).
John 20:21-23 — John’s account of the charge which Jesus gave to “the eleven” (Mk. 16:14) is not as detailed as the other passages, but is not less valid and informative. It harmonizes completely with the other three accounts. Jesus sends his apostles on a mission, again promises them the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 14:26), and promises to recognize whatever sins are remitted or retained by the apostles in the execution of their commission.
The Holy Spirit decided to give us four separate, distinct, though sometimes overlapping accounts of the life of Christ, including the final charge given to his disciples. And as John concluded in his account, the combined evidence is sufficient to make believers of all who have good and honest hearts (Jn. 20:30,31; Lk. 8:15).
Mark 16:16 — The Grammatical Construction
The grammatical construction of Mark 16:16 is so plain, logical, and forceful that those who do not agree with its message resort to all manner of literary contortions in order to change the text. And those who would separate baptism from salvation recognize the damage done to their position by the language of Mark 16:16.
A familiar ploy of those who would wrest the Scriptures is to question the original translations of the Hebrew/Greek languages into English. When dealing with the average per-son, I have found that the best way to counter this literary “end-run” is to emphasize the scholarship embodied in just two translations of the Bible, the King James Version (KJV), and the American Standard Version (ASV). These words were translated by 148 of the world’s best Hebrew/Greek/ English scholars.
If some pseudo “scholar” wants to make himself look ridiculous by pitting his learning against such a formidable array of experts, let him do so. I do not want to be caught in the same classroom with him, much less on the same dunce’s stool.
Let us notice the simple, grammatical construction of Mark 16:16.
“He” — This is the generic “he” of “all the world”/ “every creature.”
“That believeth and is baptized” — Not just any “he” will be saved, but the “he that believeth and is baptized.”
“And” — A coordinate conjunction connecting things of equal rank. If belief is essential to salvation, baptism is equally essential. The conjunction “and” demands it.
“Shall be saved” — A promise which is just as depend-able and sure as the original one given by the prophet Joel: ” .. . whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered (saved)” (Rom. 10:13).
The Carcase and the Eagles
“For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together” (Matt. 24:28).
Like birds of prey which concentrate their attack on a common, prospective feast, various “eagles” have attempted to devour the delicacy of baptism in our text. Like the advocates of “divorce for every cause” who must eliminate the force of Matthew 19:9, so the enemies of baptism testify to the importance of Mark 16:16 in the plan of salvation.
Universalists, Methodists, Baptists, Catholics — all of these have their own peculiar “version” of how Mark 16:16 ought to read in order to support their own doctrinal traditions. One holds that everyone will be saved, one tries to include infants who can’t believe, another tries to place salvation before baptism, and others will substitute the sprinkling of water for baptism.
Sometimes the quibble is made that Jesus didn’t say, “he that believeth not and is not baptized shall be condemned.” He didn’t have to, for no unbeliever is going to repent, confess something he doesn’t believe, or be baptized in the name of one in whom he does not believe.
The conflicting efforts of so many to escape the force of Mark 16:16 only tend to verify and magnify the importance of baptism in God’s plan of salvation.
“Into All the World”
As the apostles “went forth and preached everywhere” (Mk. 16:20), we can see clearly that water baptism was an integral part of preaching “the gospel to every creature.”
Acts 2 — The apostles received the promise of the Spirit (vv. 1-21), “Christ and him crucified” was preached (vv. 22-36), souls were convicted (v. 37), they were told to “Re-pent, and be baptized . . . for the remission of sins” (v. 38), and “they that gladly received the word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (v. 41).
Acts 8:1-25 — Philip preached Christ (v. 5), and “both men and women” believed and were baptized (v. 12). Luke said that Simon the sorcerer “believed also . . . and was baptized” (v. 13). Jesus said that when people did what the Samaritans and Simon did, they “shall be saved.” Do you want to question the word of Luke, the word of Christ, or neither?
Acts 8:26-40 — Philip preached Jesus to the eunuch (v. 35), the eunuch believed, requested water baptism, confessed Christ, was baptized by Philip, and “went on his way rejoicing.”
Acts 10 — Peter preached Christ to the Gentiles of Cornelius’ household (vv. 36-43), God poured out of his Spirit on the Gentiles as evidence of their right to salvation (11:17,18), and Peter commanded water baptism “in the name of the Lord” (10:47,48). Cornelius was not saved by a direct operation of the Spirit, but rather by obedience to the words preached and commanded by Peter (11:14).
Acts 18:1-8 — Paul preached Christ to the Corinthians (v. 5), “and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (v. 8).
Acts 22:16 — A believing, penitent Saul of Tarsus was commanded to “arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” This same Saul later explains how he and others “call on the name of the Lord” (Rom. 10:9-15), and gives inspired instructions relative to baptism and salvation (Rom. 6:3-5,16-18; Col. 2:12).
And when Peter said “baptism doth also now save us .. . by the resurrection of Christ” (1 Pet. 3:20,21), he was teaching the same thing he taught some 30 years earlier on the day of Pentecost, and the same thing he had earlier commanded at the house of Cornelius.
Only Christ could baptize “with the Holy Ghost” (Jn. 1:33), and we have seen that water baptism was commanded and administered in the execution of the great commission. About the year A.D. 64, Paul said, “There is . . . one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). This is the baptism enjoined in Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16.
As a people, we sometimes forget that the primary mission of the church is to preach the gospel and be “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). When we forget the mission of the church, it is not surprising that we forget such passages as Mark 16:15,16 which emphasize that mission.
If just one generation fails to preach the gospel, the ranks of the church will be decimated by such a failure, and its attendant apostasy. If we follow the pattern of some, the gospel plan of salvation and its urgent invitation would soon become extinct. Souls would not hear, believe, or be baptized, and they would remain unsaved.
Paul said that “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:3,4). And he said that those are lost who have the gospel hidden from them.
It is ironic and tragic when Satan is allowed to use a forgetful and slumbering church to accomplish his mission.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 3, p. 19
February 4, 1993