What Is the “Washing of Regeneration”?

By Ferrell Jenkins

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5, NASB).

In Titus 3:5 the apostle Paul declares that “God saved us” and that such was done “according to his mercy.” It was the mercy, grace and kindness or goodness of God that made salvation possible. Praise God for this grace toward man!

The passage also announces that he saved us, “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness” but that he saved us “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” What is this “washing of regeneration” by which he saved us? One thing is clear: it is not a deed or work “which we have done in righteousness.” The chart should aid us in the analysis of this passage.

He Saved Us

Not By But By

Works Washing of Regeneration

According To His Mercy

What is the “washing of regeneration” by which he saved us? We have collected the comments of various outstanding Bible scholars from a diversity of religious groups. These men often differ on some of the details in this passage, but they all agree as to what the “washing of regeneration” is. We do not cite them as our authority, but ask that you weigh their arguments carefully.

John Wesley: “Sanctification, expressed by the laver of regeneration (that is, baptism, the thing signified, as well as the outward sign), and the renewal of the Holy Ghost, which purifies the soul, as water cleanses the body, and renews it in the whole image of God” (One Volume New Testament Commentary, Wesley, Clarke, Henry, et. al.).

William Barclay: “When we think of baptism in the earliest days of the Church, we must always remember that it was the baptism of grown men and women who were coming direct out of paganism into the Christian Church. It was the deliberate leaving of one way of life to enter upon another and a new way. When Paul writes to the people of Corinth, he says: ‘Ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified’ (1 Cor. 6:11). In the letter to the Ephesians he says that Jesus Christ took the Church that “He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26). In baptism there came to men the cleansing, re-creating power of God” (The Letters to Timothy, Titus, Philemon in the Daily Study Bible).

Cambridge Greek Testament (J.H. Bernard): “That the ‘washing of regeneration’ is the Water of Baptism is undoubted; see Eph. 5:26 . . . It is the instrument (dia) of salvation (cp. 1 Pet. 3:21 . . . ), the means, that is, through which we are placed in a ‘state of salvation,’ in union with the mystical Body of Christ; cp. Gal. 3:27. . .”

The New Bible Commentary (A.M. Stibbs): “In status this salvation is made ours through the outward seal of baptism; in vital experience it comes through the inner quickening by the Spirit.”

The Pulpit Commentary (A.C. Hervey): “Here we have the means through or by which God’s mercy saves us . . . (regeneration) therefore, very fitly describes the new birth in holy baptism, when the believer is put into possession of a new spiritual life, a new nature, and a new inheritance of glory. And the laver of baptism is called ‘laver of regeneration,’ because it is the ordained means by or through which regeneration is obtained.”

William Hendriksen: “It is clear from such passages as John 3:3,5 and especially Ephesians 5:26 (cf. Heb. 10:22) that this ‘washing of regeneration and renewing’ stand in some relation to the rite of baptism. Undoubtedly, also here in Titus 3:5 there is an implied reference to this sacrament” (New Testament Commentary).

Albert Barnes: “The word (washing) itself would naturally be understood as referring to baptism (comp. Notes on Acts 22:16), which was regarded as the emblem of washing away sins, or of cleansing from them” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament).

Henry Alford: “Observe, there is here no figure: the words are literal: Baptism is taken as in all its completion, the outward visible sign accompanied by the inward spiritual grace; and as thus complete, it not only represents, but is the new birth.” At Hebrews 10:22, Alford says the clause having our body washed with pure water “refers directly to Christian baptism” and cites washing of water (Eph. 5:26) and washing of regeneration (Tit. 3:5) as “analogous expressions” (The Greek New Testament).

James Macknight: “Through the bath of regeneration: through baptism; called ‘the bath of regeneration,’ not because any change in the nature of the baptized person is produced by baptism, but because it is an emblem of the purification of his soul from sin. . . ” (Apostolical Epistles).

G.R. Beasley-Murray: Beasley-Murray said in 1962 “of all the commentators who have written on these Epistles [1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus], I can find but one who denies” that this refers to baptism. He says, “All things considered, it requires a real hardiness of spirit to refuse the weight of this evidence. . . ” (Baptism, pp. 209, 210). I have come across one additional more recent commentator who denies that baptism is under consideration.

What is the “washing of regeneration” by which he saved us? These commentators all agree and most of them cite biblical evidence to back up their position. The “washing of regeneration” in Titus 3:5 is baptism. In the chart below we have replaced the phrase “washing of regeneration” with the word baptism. This is proper since this is the meaning of the phrase.

He Saved Us

Not By But By

Works Baptism

According To His Mercy

Now observe that he saved us not by works, but by baptism. This passage clearly shows that baptism is not a work of man “done in righteousness.” Baptism is not a work of man; it is a work of God because it has been commanded by God (Acts 2:38; 10:48). Baptism is a work of God in the same sense that believing on Jesus is “the work of God” (and John 6:29 says just this). Those who believe that he saved us by works should give up the view. And those who disregard baptism should realize that they can not be saved without obeying God.

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 24, pp. 737, 751
December 20, 1990