A Baptist Preacher Who Has Reflected On Baptism

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

It is no secret that oftentimes, members of the churches of Christ are looked down upon for teaching that baptism is part of God’s plan of salvation. Although Jesus and His Apostles clearly taught this (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-4, etc.), the vast majority of Protestantism rejects the truth in favor of the false notion of salvation by “faith only” (see James 2:14-26 for the New Testament’s teaching on this doctrine, and please pay special attention to James 2:24 which is the only place in the Bible where the words “faith only” appear).  

Sometimes, critics of New Testament Christianity refer to the members of the churches of Christ with derogatory terms such as “water dogs.” I myself have been labeled this on several occasions. 

Recently, while I was doing a linguistic study on Galatians 3:26-27, and I came across a fascinating book on the subject of baptism. It is written by a Baptist preacher named Stanley Fowler, who has been carefully studying the subject of New Testament baptism over the years and who has made some incredible discoveries.  

In this article, we will examine some of the fascinating elements of this book. The following quotes are from Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock (unless otherwise noted).  

A Brief Description Of The Purpose For The Author’s Book

Why did Fowler write his book?  

“For the last few months, I have been part of a national study team considering the possibility of a small change to the policy of my denomination about the relation between baptism and church membership. That experience has made me aware once again that tinkering with baptism among Baptists brings all sorts of strong feelings to the surface, but it also reminded me that Baptist emphasis on baptism tends to focus on the details of the human action, rather than what God might be doing in the event.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 18 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

While describing his overall assessment of baptism as taught and practiced in the Baptist churches, Fowler became troubled:

“Anyone who takes seriously what we call the Great Commission (Matt 28: 18–20) has to admit that baptism is about initiation into discipleship and thus very significant, but long ago I became convinced that my own tradition undervalued it.” ((Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 23 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

Early Upbringing 

It is at this point that our author begins informing us about some important elements of his upbringing. Being reared in the Baptist faith (especially among the very strict Primitive Baptists who are extremely Calvinistic), Fowler began to learn some interesting lessons. He writes: 

“My maternal grandparents were Primitive Baptists, and my grandfather was a deacon in their church. I can still remember visiting that church occasionally, especially singing hymns from the shaped-note hymnal, and watching the members walk to the front to deposit their offering in the plate….Primitive Baptists have sometimes been called hardshell Baptists or anti-mission Baptists, because of their opposition to modern methods that they consider unbiblical….On principle, they did not affirm a universal offer of the gospel, leaving all the work of calling sinners to Christ with God himself. However, in spite of this essentially fatalistic attitude, my grandfather was fervent in prayer. When I was three years old, suffering with viral pneumonia and appendicitis simultaneously, offered no hope by doctors, my grandfather prayed for days, and I lived to tell the story. Later, when I was a pastor, he prayed for me every Sunday at just the right time of day. We can be grateful that sometimes our practice is better than our theology.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 41-49 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

He recalls the conversion of his parents to the Regular Baptist church. It is around this time that Fowler begins to carefully observe how many in the Baptist faith considered other denominations:

“My parents’ conversion occurred when I was eleven years old, after relocating to the Indianapolis area. It was through the witness of longtime friends and in a revival meeting in a Baptist Church, but it was Regular Baptist and neither Primitive nor General….One of the emphases of the Regular Baptist church was doctrinal purity and separation from apostates, which meant that I frequently heard attacks on the false doctrine of other kinds of churches. I don’t recall that the unity of the wider church was ever a preaching theme. I will never forget the sermon that referred to the “backward collar Whiskeypalians,” thus dealing with clericalism and drinkers in one neat phrase. Pastors in our circles were fond of dismissing others by labeling them, and it was crucial that we identify ourselves as “fundamentalists” instead of “neo-evangelicals.”” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 59-64 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

How interesting that the gentleman here begins describing his encounters with the churches of Christ:

“Some of our strongest criticisms were directed at the churches in what is often called the Stone-Campbell tradition, sometimes at the Christian Church-Disciples of Christ (the ecumenically-oriented stream), but more often at the a cappella Churches of Christ (the most exclusive stream). There were various points of tension, but clearly the most significant was baptismal theology. The Churches of Christ were often called Campbellites, because of Alexander Campbell, the preacher who led the movement in the 19th century, and this division over baptism goes back to battles in that century between Campbell and the Baptists. The heart of the debate is whether we get baptized to testify to a previously completed conversion experience (Baptists) or to experience the remission of sins (Churches of Christ). Do I come to baptism as a confirmed believer (Baptists) or as a repentant sinner turning to Christ (Churches of Christ)? Do I get baptized because I have been saved (Baptists) or in order to be saved (Churches of Christ)? Must I have a conversion narrative to tell prior to baptism (Baptists), or is confession of faith in Jesus Christ adequate (Churches of Christ)? The debate can be phrased in various ways, but it deals with the most fundamental realities of Christian experience, and therefore, it is an emotionally charged debate. In my experience at that point, there was little contact between the two camps—we talked about each other rather than to each other. I can still remember my pastor’s assertion that we believed in the “power of the blood,” but they believed in the “power of the tub.” The idea that baptism was instrumental in the experience of salvation was condemned as works-righteousness and a false gospel, and my sense was that members of the local Church of Christ were not to be considered brothers and sisters in the faith. Of course, the same attitude prevailed on the other side of the divide. They did not think of us as brothers and sisters, because we had not been baptized intentionally “for the remission of sins” (in accord with Acts 2: 38).” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 68-82 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

This last quotation is unfortunate in a few ways.  

First, it is apparent that our author considers the church of Christ to be another human denomination, one started by Alexander Campbell. In truth, the church of Christ is simply the individuals that God has saved from the world and added to His church when they obey the Gospel (Acts 2:37-47; Colossians 1:13). Campbell may have been involved in helping to bring about the American Restoration Movement, but he did not start the church of Christ. Instead, Jesus built the church Himself (Matthew 16:18). Furthermore, the church is continued through the continual preaching and teaching of God’s Word, which is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11; Matthew 13:19).  

Of the existence of the church through the ages (Daniel 2:44; Hebrews 12:28), there is abundant proof from a variety of historical sources.  

But secondly, this quotation is a testament to the division that occurs when disciples of Christ divide over party names and slogans. Several refer to the churches of Christ as “Campbellites,” believing that we are the followers of Alexander Campbell. Throughout history, there have been many “restoration movements” pursued by sincere disciples of Christ from every corner of the Earth.  

Campbell himself, in response to the question, “What Is Campbellism?” Had this to say:

“It is a nickname of reproach invented and adopted by those whose views, feelings and desires are all sectarian – who cannot conceive of Christianity in any other light than an ISM” (Christian Baptist, Vol. V.270).

It is unfortunate that the religious world is as fractured religiously as it is, and i am sorry to say that all too often churches of Christ have been the cause of much unjustified division.  

However, the influence of the churches of Christ on Fowler certainly had an impact. He began to see that several of the arguments against baptism that were raised by his peers did not “hold water” (pun intended): 

“But at the same time, I had to admit that there were several baptism texts in the New Testament that seemed to say that baptism was instrumental in salvation, and I found myself somewhat discontent with the standard Baptist rhetoric.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 87 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

After becoming a preacher, Fowler became familiar with the writings of author G.R. Beasley-Murray. This scholar had written a revolutionary book on the subject of baptism that had (and continues to have) a profound impact on the Baptist churches:

“During those years I became acquainted with G. R. Beasley-Murray’s Baptism in the New Testament, which had been published about a decade earlier. Here was a book commended by scholars across the denominational spectrum, written by a British Baptist, treating every baptismal text and allusion in the New Testament in detail, and then synthesizing all of that into a theology of baptism in a way that I found utterly compelling. The book is still in print and is still considered by many to be the book on baptism. I suppose this was the first time I had ever encountered a Baptist who insisted that baptism is a “sacrament,” a means of grace that in some sense conveys what it signifies. Thinking through the argument of Beasley-Murray’s book helped me to clarify my own thinking about baptism and to articulate a way of thinking about it that enabled a natural reading of biblical texts about baptism, while also avoiding what I took to be the overstatements of my Church of Christ friends.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 102-106 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

While he was still not completely convinced regarding the subject of baptism and salvation in the New Testament, the author began to see a connection between the two:

“In the process, I became more convinced than ever that baptism in biblical terms is conversion-baptism, and thus a meeting-place of grace and faith, the sacramental seal of the experience of union with Christ.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 102-106 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

As he continued his studies, Folwer came to realize that the work of Beasley-Murray was only a small indicator of changes taking place in the Baptist churches (especially in England) regarding baptism:

“By that time I had become aware that the work of Beasley-Murray was actually the culmination of fresh thinking about baptism that had been going on for decades among British Baptists.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 131 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

Over time, Folwer began to realize that the writings of his earlier Baptist brethren were very similar to the writings of members of the churches of Christ on the subject of baptism:

“When I began reading the foundational Baptist literature of the seventeenth century, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the early Baptists often spoke of baptism in the ways that I had come to appreciate, freely describing it in sacramental terms and sounding more like Church of Christ theologians than the Baptists around me.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 135 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

Facing Difficulties 

As Folwer began to realize the profound truths of the New Testament regarding baptism and salvation, he felt the need to begin teaching on these topics. He soon found resistance among his friends, although some were open to the subject. However, he writes about some of the discouraging hardships that he and some of his similarly-minded friends encountered: 

“My book has been well received by Baptists in various parts of the world and is frequently referenced in later works on baptism, but it has not been as widely read or easily accepted in North America. Shortly after its publication in 2002, I was at a meeting of Baptist historians and theologians in Kansas City, and I was showing a copy of the book to two friends there. One of the men, who essentially shared my view, said that when he teaches the topic in his Baptist school, on the first day the students think he is a heretic, but by the second day they are more receptive. My other friend indicated that he was having a hard time getting to day two.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 155-160 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

One of Fowler’s critics made the argument that his beliefs in the essentialist of baptism could lead to sympathy towards the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. He responds:

“I understand the concern, even though I believe that his critique is overstated. As I have stated above, my concern is not about terminology, but is in fact about letting the baptism texts of the New Testament speak naturally, and with that in view to test the adequacy of typical Baptist ways of stating the meaning of baptism. It is ironic that Baptists, in spite of their name, often minimize baptism in practice. For them, conversion is typically thought of as complete prior to baptism, so that baptism is reduced to sheer obedience, often as nothing more than a final hoop to jump through for church membership.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 176-180 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

Indeed, this is what we must do! We must return to the Scriptures and allow the Word of God to lead and teach us.  

“Given the traditional Baptist emphasis on the unique and final authority of Scripture, we should be prepared to take a fresh look at the biblical witness to baptism and ask whether our ideas about baptism are an adequate way to describe that witness. That may be radical, but surely it is right.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 185 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

Why Many Baptists Come To Believe That Baptism Is Not Essential To Salvation 

One might wonder how so many people come to the (mistaken) conclusion that baptism is not essential to salvation, when every passage in the New Testament Scriptures which mentions baptism and salvation places baptism clearly BEFORE salvation (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:20-21).  

In addressing this question, Fowler provides this insight: 

“What often happens is that we develop a doctrine of conversion and salvation from a select group of texts in the Pauline epistles. These texts emphasize the “faith alone, grace alone” nature of salvation, and then the baptismal texts are forced onto that grid on the assumption that “faith alone” means “by faith and not by baptism.” But it seems to require some interpretive gymnastics to make the baptism texts of the New Testament fit that grid, with Acts 2: 38 being only one of the most obvious examples. Now, what would happen if we tried to develop a baptismal theology based on the actual baptism texts? Although that seems like an obvious approach to take, it is often not done.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 203-207 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

So many of our denominational friends focus on the passages which speak of salvation through “belief” or “faith,” and then (incorrectly assuming that such faith disavows obedience) arrive at the conclusion that baptism is thus not part of the plan of salvation. Perhaps if our denominational friends would consider that saving faith in the Bible includes obedience (James 2:14-26; Hebrews 11) they would be able to see that faith and baptism are not mutually exclusive in regard to the salvation of the sinner.  

Studying Specific Texts 

Fowler’s next section focuses on specific passage of Scripture which examine baptism in great detail. Let’s notice some points from his studies.  

Matthew 28:19-20

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus had given the Great Commission with these words:

Matthew 28:19-20-19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

In studying the language of the passage, we are told: 

“As has been pointed out by many contemporary teachers, there is grammatically one imperative in the text (make disciples), one aorist participle (having gone, go), and two present participles (baptizing, teaching). An aorist participle normally denotes action that is logically (if not temporally) prior to the action of the main verb, 5 leading to a translation like “Having gone, make disciples” or “Go and make disciples.” Matthew’s use of this Greek word (poreuthentes) in this construction elsewhere (2: 8; 9: 13; 11: 4; 17: 27; 18: 12; 22: 15; 26: 14) suggests that the participle essentially takes on the imperatival nuances of the main verb, and this supports the translation, “Go and make disciples.” On the other hand, a present participle in Greek normally denotes action that occurs simultaneously with the main verb of the sentence, 6 and that implies that baptizing and teaching are not done after making disciples, but instead are done at the same time as making disciples. Baptizing and teaching are, therefore, the means by which disciples are made or the manner in which they are made. In other words, one becomes a disciple by baptism and grows as a disciple by ongoing obedience to Christ’s commands.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 241-253 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

The old argument that a person becomes a saved disciple and then is baptized afterward is thus refuted by the clear study of this passage.  

Yet just as informative is the significance of the phrase “in the name” that is used in this passage, in which a person is baptized. Fowler writes: 

“This text also describes baptism as a means by which we are brought into connection with the Triune God. The words of Jesus are typically translated “in the name of . . . ” and the phrase is routinely spoken in the act of baptism—for some, the validity of the baptism depends on the liturgical phrase. However, we need to note that the Greek preposition used in the phrase is not en but eis, a preposition that commonly conveys directional nuances and thus is often rendered “into.” The word is often used with the verb pisteuō (“ believe”) to indicate that faith in Christ is about attachment to or commitment to Christ. So we might appropriately translate Jesus’ words as “baptizing them into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” In biblical usage, “the name” of God is really another way of denoting God himself, so that “baptizing into the name” of God is equivalent to “baptizing into God”, i.e., baptizing into communion/ fellowship with God. Baptism is Trinitarian in nature, because in it we experience reconciliation with the Father through faith in the Son, having been drawn to faith by the Holy Spirit (who is also bestowed on us by the risen Son as a benefit of the new covenant). All this is further evidence that the words of Jesus describe baptism as a means by which we enter into communion with God, not as a mere symbol pointing to a prior reality.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 264-274 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock)

This phrase “into the name of” often carried the idea of into the “ownership” or “fellowship” of something.  

“The Greek phrase “into the name of ” (εἰς τò ὄνoμα) occurs mainly in commercial or legal documents and carries the idea of “into the ownership or possession” of someone. The Hebrew phrase “into the name of ” ( ) carries the idea of “with reference to,” defining the intention or purpose of the act, or even in some instances “in worship to.” 446 A Hebrew background has greater probability with reference to Matthaean usage, but the practical results may not have been greatly different. Something done by a person as an act of worship toward another brought the first person into a relationship of belonging to the object of the act, and someone to whom a person belonged or was obligated received acts of homage from that person.” (Everett Ferguson, Baptism In The Early Church: History, Theology, And Liturgy In The First Five Centuries, 3005 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) 

“Another controversy of the religious world concerns the purpose of baptism. Many people, correctly rejecting the false doctrine of salvation upon the basis of works of human merit, have erroneously concluded that no works-of any type-are involved in salvation. Hence, they have overlooked the clear connection between baptism (which is not a work of human merit; cf. Titus 3:5) and forgiveness of sins in such passages as Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21, etc. One interesting passage in this connection is Matthew 28:19, 20 where the Lord’s followers are instructed to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” What did Christ mean by baptizing them “into the name” of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Many scholars were uncertain. Then archaeologists began to uncover numerous Greek papyri containing the phrase eis to onama, “into the name.” It was a technical expression denoting “into the possession” of someone. A slave was sold into the name, i.e., into the possession, of his owner. So, as Moulton and Milligan comment: “The usage is of interest in connection with Matthew 28:19, where the meaning would seem to be ‘baptized into the possesssion of the Father, etc.'”. What a thrilling concept! When one, in believing penitence, turns to the Lord by the obedient act of being immersed in water, by that submission, he becomes the possession of the divine Godhead.” (Wayne Jackson, Biblical Studies In The Light Of Archaeology, 56; Montgomery, Alabama; Apologetics Press). 

When carefully studied, we see that Matthew 28:19-20 clearly teaches that baptism is essential to salvation.  

Acts 2:38

When the people on Pentecost asked “what shall we do” after they had been pricked to the heart, coming face to face with their guilt, Peter told them these words:

Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Speaking of the specifics of this passage, Fowler writes:

“The words are “repent and let each one of you be baptized . . . ” with the plural command to repent being addressed to the entire crowd, all of whom could change their mind simultaneously, and the singular command to be baptized being addressed to them individually, as they would each in turn express their repentance in the ritual act. Baptism is clearly an integral part of the conversion demanded, sufficiently so that Luke’s description of their response is in terms of their baptism, not explicitly in terms of their repentance (2: 41). This text seems to say quite clearly that baptism is done as a means of experiencing the benefits of saving union with Christ, but that is not easily affirmed by the many Baptists (and others) who see a threat to salvation by faith alone, apart from works.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 280-285 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock) 

The first thing about this statement that stands out to me is how Fowler immediately refutes one of the oldest Baptist arguments used against Acts 2:38.  

Through the years, some have claimed that the command to “be baptized” cannot be joined to the phrase “for the remission of sins.” It is claimed that because the command “repent” is second person plural, and because the command “be baptized” is third person singular, they both cannot be joined to the phrase “for the remission of sins.” Thus, it is claimed that only “repentance” is needed “for the remission of sins.”  

A number of years ago, brother Thomas B. Warren entered into public debate with a gentleman named L..S. Ballard. The discussion centered on the subject of salvation by faith alone and the place of baptism in God’s plan of redemption. When Ballard raised this objection to Acts 2:38, brother Warren produced a mass of scholarship on the matter. I quote the following from his second affirmative: 

“All right. Next he came up here and brought up an argument on Acts 2:38, that we could not connect both of those verbs with the expression “unto the remission of sins.” Now, I went to the trouble to find out what men who are real grammarians say about that. These men are recognized in the outstanding schools of our nation. They are men who, by reason of academic attainment, are recognized by their fellow- men to be the greatest among us today. I want to show you what they say about it. I have never put myself up as a Greek scholar, but I here and now say that I shall not allow Mr. Ballard to misuse it. I am not a Greek scholar, but I know where to go to those men who are scholars on these technical points. Mr. John Reumann of Luthern Theological Seminary, “In that passage cited, Acts 2:38, I see no grammatical reason why one couldn’t take the phrase ‘eis aphesin hamartion,’ ‘for the forgiveness of sins,’ with both verbs, repentance and baptism.” Marvin K. Franzmann, Concordia Seminary, “As regards the expression in Acts 2:38, it is grammatically possible to connect ‘eis aphesin’ with both verbs.” D. A. Penick of the University of Texas, in reference to my diagram where I’ve connected both of those verbs with the expression “unto the remission of sins,” says, “your diagram is correct.” Carl H. Morgan, dean of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, “I would agree with the statement which you quote from Mr. H. B. Hackett, where he says, ‘we connect naturally with both the preceding verbs’.” Notice again the statement of Thayer in which he says, “the ‘eis’ expressing the end aimed at and secured by”— what— “by repentance and baptism, just previously enjoined.” Again, D. A. Penick, University of Texas, ” ‘Repent ye,’ the writer then wishes to be more emphatic, so he says ‘hekastos baptistheto’ ‘let each one of you be baptized.’ This distribution of a plural subject and predicate by the use of ‘hekastos’ and a third person singular is quite common in all Greek, and is frequently used in the New Testament.” H. B. Hackett, foremost Baptist Commentator, says in his Commentary on Acts, “We connect naturally with both the preceding verbs.” J. W. Wilmarth, a great outstanding Baptist scholar, “This interpretation compels us”— that is, to try to separate the two verbs— “either to do violence to the construction, or to throw the argument or the course of thought in the context into complete confusion. Indeed we can hardly escape the latter alternative if we choose the former. For those who contend for the interpretation ‘on account of remission’ will hardly be willing to admit that Peter said ‘Repent’ as well as ‘be baptized on account of remission of sins.’ This is too great an in- version of natural sequence. Yet to escape it we must violently dissever ‘repent’ and ‘be baptized’ and deny that ‘eis’ expresses the relation of ‘repentance’ as well as ‘baptism’ to forgiveness of sins. But the natural construction connects the latter with both the preceding verbs. It enforces the entire exhortation, not one part of it to the exclusion of the other, as Hackett says.” Ballard says you can’t, but these men— scholars, recognized to be among the greatest in the world— have said that you can connect, that it is possible, to connect both of them. Henry J. Cadbury, member of the Revised Standard Version Committee, which Ballard introduced a moment ago, has this to say, (reading from a letter) “The gram- mar of the sentence in Acts 2:38 is perfectly regular and better Greek than if the author had kept the second person plural ‘baptize’ after using the singular ‘each.’ I have no doubt that another author would have written ‘Do ye repent,’ and ‘be ye baptized,’ each of you. But this writer seems to have preferred the less loose construction. I think that there would be no essential difference in meaning.” Whether you said “Do ye repent, and be ye baptized each of you,” or as it stands exactly, there would be no essential difference in meaning. Now, Mr. Ballard says, “Why, you can’t do that! According to Greek grammar you can’t do it.” Well, it’s strange that all of these men who are outstanding in their field— Greek grammar— say that you can. They say that there is absolutely no reason why you couldn’t do it!” (Thomas B. Warren & L.S. Ballard, Warren-Ballard Debate On The Plan Of Salvation, 2040-2070 (Kindle Edition); Glasgow, KY; National Christian Press)  

In Fowler’s words, he clearly refutes this argument against Acts 2:38.  

Yet what of the claim made by some that the phrase “for the remission of sins” as used in Acts 2:38 actually means “because of” remission of sins? In other words, some say that believers are to repent and be baptized-not to be forgiven-but because they already have been forgiven. After citing one famous Greek scholar who made this claim, Fowler observes:

“There is no doubt about Robertson’s ability as a Greek scholar, but there are many reasons to reject his interpretation of this passage. First, the very existence of the causal sense of eis is a disputed point among Greek scholars. 8 Second, and more to the point, the wider use of eis with “forgiveness of sins” as its object consistently shows forgiveness to be the result of eis, not the condition of eis. Matthew 26: 28 describes the forgiveness of sins as the result of the pouring out of the blood of Christ. Luke 24: 47 (in some manuscripts) envisions the forgiveness of sins as the result of preaching the gospel to all nations. Both Mark 1: 4 and Luke 3: 3 describe John’s baptism as a request for forgiveness of the sins confessed in baptism. It is, then, natural to read Acts 2: 38 as a statement that forgiveness is sought by baptism. Robertson’s statement of his view makes it clear that his conclusion is determined by prior theological commitments, not by the natural sense of the Greek words in the text.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 290-302 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock) 

Thus, there is no doubt that Acts 2:38 enjoins repentance and baptism to believers to have their sins forgiven and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  

Acts 22:16 

When Paul became a believer in Jesus, we are told that for three days and night he showed his repentance by praying to the Lord and fasting (Acts 9:1-11). Yet at the end of these three days, he was still in his sins and was told: 

Acts 22:16-And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

Speaking of this passage, we read:

“Paul’s own experience of conversion includes baptism as an appeal for the forgiveness of his sins, in that baptism is the event in which he called on the Lord for that forgiveness. That is to say, baptism is seen here as a kind of acted prayer, not unlike the baptism of John, in which penitent sinners confessed their sins and sought forgiveness for entrance into the kingdom of God. That should alert us to avoid any thought that Paul drives a wedge between faith and baptism in his epistles, to which we now turn.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 364-370 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock) 

Baptism is the ultimate “sinner’s prayer” for salvation.  

Romans 6:3-4

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church of Rome, he reminded them of what had taken place when they had turned to the Lord:

Romans 6:3-4-Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  

This is perhaps one of the most clear passages in the entire New Testament that shows us what takes place in baptism. It is in baptism that we are buried with Christ; it is after baptism that we are able to walk “in newness of life.”  

What of the common argument that this passage is talking about Holy Spirit baptism? Fowler addresses this with these insightful words:

“However attractive that option might seem to be, it does not appear to be on target. The language of this text looks like the language of water-baptism, not Spirit-baptism, in the wider NT usage. The linguistic link between water and Spirit goes back to the words of John the Baptist: “I baptize you in water for repentance, but he will baptize you in the Spirit” (with slight variations in the Gospel accounts). But notice that in the comparison, Christ is to Spirit-baptism what John is to water-baptism, i.e., the baptizer. In Romans 6, Christ is not the baptizer, but instead he is the goal of the baptism, the one to whom believers are connected by this baptism. That is not the language of Spirit-baptism. Furthermore, the Romans language of baptism “into Christ” (eis Christon) recalls the Matthew 28 language of baptism “into the name” (eis to onoma), and that text is clearly talking about water-baptism. The only reason why one might argue that Romans 6 is not talking about water-baptism is the assumption that such realistic language about the efficacy of baptism would be foreign to Paul, but according to Acts 22: 16, Paul was very comfortable with such language.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 380-391 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock) 

1 Peter 3:21

The final passage we will consider is found in the Book of 1 Peter.  

While describing how Noah and his family were saved “through” the water of the Flood, the Apostle Peter writes:

1 Peter 3:20-21-who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Peter clearly teaches that the Noahs were saved “through” (dia- through the instrumentality of) the waters of the Flood. Furthermore, this salvation foreshadowed (type and antitype) how disciples would one day be saved through the waters of baptism.  

How were they saved through the water? Very simply, the Noahs were in a sinful state, and then the water came; and they were set down to a new cleansed state. In the same way, believers are saved through baptism.  

Writing of this (and in particular about the word “answer,” “appeal,” or “pledge” that is used in verse 21, Fowler notes: 

“Clearly Peter is saying that baptism saves in some sense, but in what sense? Ultimately, of course, it is God who saves, and he does so “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”—any saving efficacy related to baptism is due to its connection to the risen savior. Furthermore, Peter clarifies that it is not the “removal of dirt from the body” (i.e., the physical act itself) that is crucial in the human response. What counts is the inner reality that is expressed in baptism—“ the pledge of a good conscience toward God.” There is, admittedly, some debate about the exact meaning of the word eperōtēma. The KJV translates it “answer,” but that is almost certainly not the meaning. Contemporary commentators have defended both “pledge” and “request” as the meaning of the word. The latter may well be the point of the word, given its relation to the verb eperōtaō (to ask or request), 12 but in either translation the point of the statement is that the commitment of the inner person is the crucial aspect of baptism. Still, it is true that the physical act of baptism is the means of expressing this commitment. It is here, as in Acts 22: 16, an acted prayer that reaches out to the risen Lord for salvation.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 439-444 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock) 


Fowler draws this part of his book to a close with these words:

“As I have argued above, the baptism texts point toward union with Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Spirit as benefits received through baptism….The writers of the New Testament do not separate faith and baptism, and neither should we….The right question is, how does God intend baptism to function? And the answer of the biblical text is that God intends it to serve as a defining moment of conversion, the way in which the penitent sinner formally says yes to the gospel and receives the salvation offered by God through Christ.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 492-517 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf & Stock) 

While I am not comfortable with everything in Fowler’s book, I am encouraged to see a denominational friend and neighbor who has the courage to study these important issues with a fresh heart and mind. I pray that I may have this same mindset and determination, having an attitude of seeking to do God’s will no matter the cost.  

Further, we all need to have the conviction to carefully examine our beliefs and to see if they are truly founded in the Word of God.  

Christ came to save us through His death, burial, and resurrection on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

Why not today as a believer repent and be baptized into Christ to receive the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38)?

If you are a child of God who has turned from the Lord, will you not today repent and pray for forgiveness (1 John 1:9-2:2)?  

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.


Is John 3:5 Referring To Baptism Or To Physical Birth?

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist) 

One of the most powerful passages about the essentiality of baptism for salvation is found in the Gospel of John. In a conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus says: 

John 3:5-Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Jesus here teaches us that a person who desires to enter into the kingdom of God must be “born again” (John 3:3). The word “kingdom” used here had reference to the kingdom prophesied by the Old Testament Prophets (Daniel 2:36-45; 7:13-14; Isaiah 2:1-4; Micah 4:1-4) which Jesus promised to build within the first century (Mark 9:1) and which is identified by Jesus Himself as the church of Christ (Matthew 16:18-19). Jesus here teaches Nicodemus that in order to enter into the kingdom, a person must undergo this “new birth.” The New Testament teaches that this new birth happens when a sincere believer in the Word of God is “born again” by being raised with Christ from the watery grave of baptism. Notice: 

1 Peter 1:22-23-Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,

Please notice the clear connection in this passage between the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and the new birth. We are born of the Spirit when the Word of God is allowed to work in us and produce new life, which (when coupled with our obedience to the truth in the act of baptism-1 Peter 3:20-21) results in our being born again.  

Paul discusses this new birth in his Letter to the Romans: 

Romans 6:3-4-Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Notice again that this passage clearly links being “born again” with the watery grave of baptism. The connection of John 3:5 with baptism is so clear that one wonders why a sincere disciple would try and divorce baptism from the new birth. Sadly, many people in the last couple of hundred of years have been trying to do just that.

One of the more popular notions advocated in religious circles is that the phrase “born of water” actually had reference to physical birth. So, according to this theory, Jesus is actually saying, “Nicodemus, unless one has been born physically and then is born spiritually, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”  

What shall we say to this?  

First, the idea that being “born of water” is a reference to physical birth is nonsensical. Why would Jesus say that one cannot be born spiritually unless a person has first been born physically? This does not pass the “common sense” test.  

Second, look at how the word “water” is used in the context of John 3. It clearly has reference to the waters of baptism (cf. John 3:23).  

Third, notice that Jesus is not describing two births in John 3:5; instead He is describing a new “birth” (singular) which is composed of two elements-water and the Spirit.  

Fourth, please observe that this “new birth” is directly tied to one becoming a member of the kingdom of God. In Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus uses the phrase “kingdom of Heaven” interchangeably with “church.” The kingdom is the church. With that in mind, what “new birth” makes one a member of the church? According to Acts 2:4 1 and 47, it is when a person is baptized into Christ that he receives “remission of sins” and the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38), and is added to the kingdom/church by God Himself (Acts 2:47).

All of this goes to show us that being “born of water” is not a reference to physical birth, but to the act of baptism.  

Fifth, it is definitely saying a lot when we consider that the church for thousands of years understood John 3:5 to be referring-not to physical birth-but to the “new birth” accomplished when the penitent believer is baptized into Christ. For example, consider some of the following quotations from the early Christians regarding John 3:5:

Chrysostom-“If anyone asks how is someone born of water, I ask in return, how is someone [like Adam] born from the earth? How was the clay separated into different parts? How were all different kinds of things, like bones, sinews, arteries, veins, and so on made from one kind of material (which itself was only earth?) … For, as in the beginning, earth was the subject matter [Gk hypekeito stoicheion.] but the whole fabric of the human body was the work of him who molded it, so now too, though the element of water is the subject matter, the whole work is done by the Spirit of grace.… Then, humanity was formed last, when the creation had been accomplished. Now, on the contrary, the new person is formed before the new creation. He is born first, and then the world is fashioned anew.… Then, he gave him a garden as his place to live. Now, he has opened heaven to us.… The first creation then, that is, that of Adam, was from earth; the next, that of the woman, from his rib; the next, that of Abel, from seed, yet we cannot comprehend any of these.… How then shall we be able to account for the unseen generation by baptism, which is far greater than these, or how can we require arguments for that strange and marvelous birth?… The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit do everything. Let us then believe the declaration of God. That is more trustworthy than actual seeing. Sight often is in error; it is impossible that God’s Word should fail. Let us then believe it. Homilies on the Gospel of John 25.1-2. [NPNF 1 14:87-88**; PG 59:149-50.]

Justin Martyr-As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, … [these] are brought by us where there is water and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born again.” (First Apology 61. [ANF 1:183.]

Tertullian-“For the law of baptizing has been imposed and the formula prescribed: “Go,” he says, “teach the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” [Mat 28:19.] The comparison with this law of that definition, “Unless one has been reborn of water and Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens,” has tied faith to the necessity of baptism. Accordingly, all thereafter who became believers used to be baptized. On Baptism 13. [ANF 3:676.]

Finally, it needs to be pointed out that the Jews had a phrase which they used when referring to physical birth-and Nicodemus had used it in his conversation with Jesus! When the Jews talked about someone being born physically, they used the phrase “born of the flesh” (cf. John 3:1-4).

With that in mind, the following thoughts are noteworthy: 

“Another proposal (mostly in popular literature) has been that “born of water” refers to physical birth, whether from the standpoint of water in the mother’s womb, or of water as a euphemism for the male sperm (compare 1 Jn 3:9)….The difficulty, however, is that while “water” is a possible metaphor for physical birth, it is not an obvious one. The Gospel writer already used a number of expressions for physical birth and “born of water” was not among them (see 1:13). He did this, moreover, in order to draw the sharpest possible contrast between physical and spiritual birth (“ not ” of blood lines, etc., “ but ” of God) rather than to point out analogies between them. In the present context Jesus himself will draw an equally sharp contrast between the two: “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v. 6). The incongruity of understanding water as physical birth can easily be seen by substituting “flesh” (which clearly does mean physical birth) for water, yielding a self- contradictory phrase, “born of flesh and Spirit” or “born of flesh, even Spirit.” (J. Ramsey Michaels, The New International Commentary On The New Testament: The Gospel Of John, 3746-3760 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company)

Many in the religious world object to God’s plan of redemption; but beloved, the Lord is very clear in His Word. God so loved the entire world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Bible belief includes obedience to what God has said to do (James 2:18-26).

Jesus loved you so much that He died for you, was buried, and arose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Through His Word, you can be born of the Spirit. Will you not today as a believer repent of your sins and be baptized into Him to have your sins forgiven and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38)?

If you are an erring child of God, won’t you please be restored to Christ today through repentance and prayer (1 John 1:9)?  

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.  

Objections To Baptism # 2: “The Thief On The Cross Was Not Baptized And Was Saved, So That Should Work For Me Too!”

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

While the Bible is very clear that baptism precedes the salvation of the repentant sinner (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 3:20-21), many in the religious world refuse to accept this.  

Sometimes this is due to the fact that people simply do not know this truth. Perhaps they have never read these Scriptures, or have not been taught the truth by those who have.  

Or, perhaps they have heard arguments against baptism being part of God’s plan of salvation which “sound” okay, but have not properly reasoned through such.  

Of course, one of the most popular argument against baptism comes from the well-known “thief on the cross.”  

When Jesus was being crucified, there were two thieves who were also being crucified with Him.  

Matthew 27:38-Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.
For some time during the crucifixion, both of these robbers showed disdain and disrespect towards Jesus:

Matthew 27:44-Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.

Mark 15:32-Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him.

However, the Gospel of Luke records an incredible conversion of one of these robbers:

Luke 23:39-43-39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” 40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

It is here that some have come to the (improper) conclusion that baptism is not necessary for salvation.  

Why do they make this claim?  

Well, it is argued that the thief was promised salvation by the Lord Jesus, and that he was not able to be baptized; so therefore, he (and by extension, everyone) may be saved apart from baptism.  

Yet is this argument valid?  

Let’s study.  

Jesus Did Promise The Thief Would Be Saved 

The first thing I would like to point out in this study is that the thief was indeed promised salvation by the Lord. In fact, the Lord clearly promised that the thief would be with Jesus Himself in Paradise on that very day!  

Luke 23:43-And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Speaking of the grammar of this passage, Ron Rhodes (in examining the contention of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that Jesus was not promising the thief would be in Paradise on that day) has well pointed out:

“The Watchtower Teaching. The New World Translation renders Luke 23: 43, “And he said to him: ‘Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.”’ This is in contrast to, for example, the English Standard Version, which renders this verse, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Notice that in the New World Translation the comma is placed after the word “today,” not after “you,” as in the English Standard Version (and most other translations). Jehovah’s Witnesses do this to keep the thief from being with Jesus in Paradise “today” (which would mean that there is conscious existence after death). Instead, they make it appear that Jesus’ statement to the thief about Paradise took place “today.” 58 How do we determine which translation is correct? Jehovah’s Witnesses answer that the teachings of Christ and of the rest of Scripture must determine which is right. And since Scripture is clear that there is no conscious existence after death (Psalm 146: 3-4), it is obvious that Jesus did not say, “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” as if He and the thief would be in Paradise the same day as their deaths. 59 Rather, Jesus’ statement to the thief took place “today.” The Biblical Teaching. This is a clear case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses changing the Bible in order to fit their doctrines. Without any warrant whatsoever, they have forced a comma into a part of the sentence that changes entirely the intended meaning of Jesus’ words. It is helpful to observe how the phrase, “Truly, I say to you” is used elsewhere in Scripture. This phrase—which translates the Greek words amen soy lego—occurs 74 times in the Gospels and is always used as an introductory expression. It is somewhat similar to the Old Testament phrase, “Thus says the Lord.” 60 Jesus used this phrase to introduce a truth that was very important. In 73 out of the 74 times the phrase occurs in the Gospels, the New World Translation places a break—such as a comma—immediately after the phrase, “Truly, I tell you.” 61 Luke 23: 43 is the only occurrence of this phrase in which the New World Translation does not place a break after it. Why? Because if a break—such as a comma—was placed after “Truly, I say to you,” the word “today” would then belong to the second half of the sentence, indicating that “today” the thief would be with Jesus in Paradise. But this would go against Watchtower theology. Hence, the relocated comma….Apologist Robert Bowman notes that if Jesus had really wanted to say, “Truly, I say to you today,” He could have done this very clearly by using a different construction in the Greek language. 62 But based upon the usage of amen soy lego throughout Scripture, it is clear that the word “today” belongs with the second part of the sentence, not the first….Related to all this, Watchtower expert Marian Bodine points out that the phrase, “Truly, I say to you today” does not make good sense: “It would have been needless to say, ‘Today, I am telling this to you.’ Of course He was! What other day would He have been speaking to the thief on? Jesus never added the word ‘today’ when speaking to anyone.” 63 According to orthodox scholars, this thief apparently believed that Jesus would eventually come into His kingdom at the end of the world. He therefore asked to be remembered by Jesus at that time. Jesus’ reply, however, promised him more than he had asked for: “Today [not just at the end of the world] you will be with me in Paradise.” 64. And what is this “Paradise”? The word paradise literally means “garden of pleasure” or “garden of delight.” Revelation 2: 7 makes reference to heaven as the “paradise of God.” The apostle Paul said he “was caught up into paradise” and “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12: 3-4). Apparently this paradise of God is so resplendently glorious, so ineffable, so wondrous, that Paul was forbidden to say anything about it to those still in the earthly realm. When Jesus promised the thief that he would go to Paradise, He was promising the thief that he would go to this wondrous place. From the above, it is clear that Luke 23: 43 argues strongly against the Watchtower position that there is no immaterial nature that consciously survives death. As is true with other Bible verses, a thorough look at the text unmasks the Watchtower deception.” (Ron Rhodes, Reasoning From The Scriptures With The Jehovah’s Witnesses, 326-329 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Harvest House Publishers)

As such, there is no doubt that this thief was promised by the Lord that he would go to Paradise on that very day when he and Jesus died.  

Taking A Closer Look At The Thief On The Cross

Yet who was this thief that Jesus addressed?  

What do we know about him?

While the text itself does not specify a great deal about who the thief on the cross was, it does highlight us some important clues about him which bear meditation.  

First, the criminal is identified as a “thief” or a “robber.” The Greek word used here is very interesting. The inspired writers use the word lestes, This word signified not only a thief (kleptes, from where we get our English word kleptomaniac), but a violent thief; a brigand, one whose crime included thievery through violence.  

We see therefore that this malefactor was guilty not only of robbery, but of personal assault and likely murder.
Second, the thief clearly demonstrates a knowledge of Jesus. He understands the fact that Jesus is innocent of the charges leveled against Him, and that He is being unjustly killed. He sees the clear contrast in this regard with his own guilt, and even defends Jesus against the other robber. He also shows an understanding of the fact that Jesus has a kingdom.  

All of these considerations demonstrate that he had some working knowledge of Jesus before the crucifixion. This of course should probably not surprise us, since the knowledge of Jesus had by that point spread throughout the land.  

Matthew 4:23-25-23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. 24 Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. 25 Great multitudes followed Him—from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.

Matthew 9:31-But when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country.

Matthew 9:26-And the report of this went out into all that land.

Matthew 14:1-At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus.  

Mark 1:28-And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.

Luke 4:14-Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.

Luke 5:15-However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.

We are assured time and again that the fame of Jesus was very widespread:

Luke 24:18-20-18 Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?” 19 And He said to them, “What things?” So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.

When the Apostle Peter preached to Cornelius and his household, he made it clear that Cornelius had already heard about Jesus:

Acts 10:36-43-36 The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—. 37 THAT WORD YOU KNOW (emphasis added, M.T.) which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39 And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. 40 Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. 43 To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”

Notice verse 37-“that word you know.” Cornelius, like many of the Gentiles in the first century, had heard of Jesus.  

Please also observe that much of the news about Jesus had been spread by John the Baptist.  

Finally, please consider that the thief on the cross displayed true repentance. He shows remorse for his sins in acknowledging his guilt and deserved condemnation, and refers to Jesus as “Lord,” showing that he understood that Jesus is truly “Master.” He plead for mercy, and the Lord granted it!  

The Thief MAY Have Been Baptized With The Baptism Of John

Seeing that the thief on the cross already had such a familiarity with Jesus, it is likely that he had encountered news of Him from John the Baptist.  

In fact, there is a great deal of evidence that he may have been baptized by John the Baptist (although the inspired Word does not directly state this).  


Mark 1:4-5-4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5 Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.  

Luke 3:3-And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,

It is possible (and indeed likely, judging from the knowledge of the thief about the Lord Jesus) that he had indeed been baptized by John the Baptist.  

The Thief On The Cross Could Not Have Been Baptized With The Baptism Of The Great Commission

It is here very important to also mention that the thief on the cross was not baptized with the baptism of the Great Commission.  

In fact, the thief on the cross COULD NOT have been baptized with the baptism of the Great Commission.  

Why is this the case?  

First, the Great Commission baptism was not issued until AFTER Jesus had died.  

Mark 16:15-16-15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

This was several days AFTER Jesus and the thief had died. Therefore, the thief could not have been baptized with this baptism.  

Second, Great Commission baptism involves a union with not only the death of Jesus, but His burial and resurrection as well. Paul makes this clear when he writes:

Romans 6:3-4-3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Colossians 2:12-buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

Great Commission baptism is tied directly to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Since the thief died before Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, and before the Great Commission baptism had even been issued, then obviously he was not under the command to be baptized with the baptism of the Great Commission!  

Just as important to consider is the fact that the thief on the cross lived and died under the Old Testament Law, and was thus not subject to the New Covenant of Christ. Paul wrote: 

Hebrews 9:16-17-For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17  For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.
Therefore, the thief on the cross had no obligation to be baptized as Christ commanded.  

A few years ago, a gentleman named Michael Shank wrote an excellent book entitled Muscle And A Shovel. In this book, he chronicles his departure out of denominationalism and into New Testament Christianity. A member of the church of Christ named Randall had ongoing Bible studies with Shank (as did another of his friends named Larry).  

When studying about the thief on the cross, we find the following account in Muscle And A Shovel: 

“Regarding the thief of the cross, little is known about his previous history leading up to the cross….Jesus, while being alive o n this earth, did as He saw fit. On two other occasions He pronounced forgiveness of sins. He healed the lame, the blind and the sick. He bid Peter to walk to Him on water. Jesus performed miracles and did signs and wonders to confirm to an unbelieving world that He was God’s Son. But Larry pointed out something else. He showed me Hebrews 9:16-17…Th e Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2) went into effect after Christ’s death; therefore, Christ healed, forgave and saved men while He was alive (i.e. the thief on the cross). However, Christ’s law (or testament) didn’t go into effect until the moment of His death. Hebrews 9 made this Bible fact clear. The principle of Christ’s will continues to this day. A man, while he is alive, can do anything he wants with his estate, but his will goes into effect at the point of his death. When Jesus lived, all men were still under the Law of Moses (if they were Jews), or the Patriarchal Law (if they were Gentiles). However, at the point of Christ’s death those former covenants were nailed to the cross and both Jews and Gentiles would be reconciled together into one body, the church, by the cross. Larry proved this point by Ephesians 2:14-16…Larry revealed another biblical point that I’d never considered. He brought up one of the many reasons for baptism found in Romans 6:3-5:…Men and women are baptized into Jesus Christ by being baptized into His death. The thief on the cross wasn’t baptized into Christ’s death because Christ had not yet died, so the thief couldn’t have been baptized into Christ’s death. The thief wasn’t subject to Paul’s command to be baptized into Christ’s death (Romans 6) just like Moses and Abraham and David weren’t subject to it because all of those people lived before Christ’s death on the cross lived under the Mosaical or Patriarchal Law. Therefore, how could they have been baptized into Christ’s death when Christ had not yet died?” (Michael Shank, Muscle And A Shovel, 2090-2138 (Kindle Edition)). 

The Thief On The Cross Was Not Able To Keep The Law Of Moses Perfectly 

There is another area where the thief on the cross bears important consideration.  

Dying under the Old Testament Law, the thief was required by God to make full restitution before he could be forgiven:

Exodus 22:1-If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep.

Exodus 22:7-If a man delivers to his neighbor money or articles to keep, and it is stolen out of the man’s house, if the thief is found, he shall pay double.

Exodus 22:9-For any kind of trespass, whether it concerns an ox, a donkey, a sheep, or clothing, or for any kind of lost thing which another claims to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whomever the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.

Leviticus 6:1-7-1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “If a person sins and commits a trespass against the LORD by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge, or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor, 3 or if he has found what was lost and lies concerning it, and swears falsely—in any one of these things that a man may do in which he sins: 4 then it shall be, because he has sinned and is guilty, that he shall restore what he has stolen, or the thing which he has extorted, or what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or the lost thing which he found, 5 or all that about which he has sworn falsely. He shall restore its full value, add one-fifth more to it, and give it to whomever it belongs, on the day of his trespass offering. 6 And he shall bring his trespass offering to the LORD, a ram without blemish from the flock, with your valuation, as a trespass offering, to the priest. 7 So the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD, and he shall be forgiven for any one of these things that he may have done in which he trespasses.”

The thief had obviously not made restitution to the ones from whom he had stolen (as is made clear from his guilty conscience and his plea of mercy from the Lord).  

Despite this fact, the Lord showed mercy to him!  

This is perhaps an interesting lesson to us in regards to the subject of a person who desires to be baptized into Christ and is not able to do so. What does God do with persons in situations where they want to obey the Lord, but are hindered from doing so?  

My mind goes to, for example, situations of persons in Muslim dominated countries where disciples of Christ are in jail and not allowed to be baptized into Christ, being forbidden to do so by their Islamic motivated captors.  

In the same way, I have come across situations in jail ministry where people desired to be baptized into Christ, but were forbidden to do so by the local government. Fortunately, this has never happened to me personally as the law enforcement in my area of Kentucky has always treated me with kindness and grace: however, I do know of situations of Gospel preachers contacting me for help and advice because inmates had been forbidden to be baptized into Christ because of uncooperative law enforcement and politicians (and in some cases, zealous religious leaders whose teachings influenced jailers and others in such a way that they were convinced baptism was not important and essential to salvation).  

From the leniency shown to the thief on the cross by the Lord, I am personally convinced that God takes such situations into account and will do what is right in each individual case. I trust Him to do what is right.  

As Abraham said so long ago:

Genesis 18:25-…Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

Let me also emphasize while I’m on this topic that one of the most important lessons which we can learn from the thief on the cross is that we should not wait until our deathbed to get things right with God. A person who does this is quite literally “playing with fire.”  

The Repentance Of The Thief On The Cross And Other Biblical Situations 

Many are surprised to learn that there are several examples in the Bible where people cried out to God on their deathbed, seeking salvation, and the Lord REFUSED their request!  

For example:

Psalm 18:41-They cried out, but there was none to save; Even to the LORD, but He did not answer them.

Proverbs 1:28-Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.

Isaiah 1:15-When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.

Jeremiah 14:12-When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.”

Ezekiel 8:18-Therefore I also will act in fury. My eye will not spare nor will I have pity; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.”

Micah 3:4-Then they will cry to the LORD, But He will not hear them; He will even hide His face from them at that time, Because they have been evil in their deeds.

In all of these cases (and more could be cited), the Lord refused salvation to those who were on their “death-bed.”

Why would God refuse to save these individuals, but then turn around and save the thief on the cross?  

The answer is found in one simple word: repentance.  

Read through each of the accounts mentioned above, and notice what you will lacking in each case (except the thief on the cross): repentance.  

The people wanted God to save them, but they had no interest or intention in actually living for Him.  

There was no real turning from sin and turning to God.  

Instead, the people treated God as many in our world do today: as a genie in a bottle to get wishes granted and maybe to get out of trouble, but with no intention of actually loving and serving Him.  

The thief on the cross displayed true repentance.  


The tendency of so many in our world to reject the clear teaching of Scripture regarding baptism by an appeal to the thief on the cross displays several attitudes which need to be addressed.  

First, it displays an attitude of ignorance. The circumstances of the thief on the cross clearly show that he had no need to be baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ since he lived and died before the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. He was not subject to the Great Commission baptism since he lived and died under the Old Testament Law, before the New Testament existed and before the Great Commission was even commanded!  

More to the point, it overlooks the fact that the thief on the cross displayed knowledge about Jesus (including His personal innocence, work, and mission). Coupled with what the Scriptures declare regarding the ministry of John the Baptist, it is likely that the thief on the cross WAS baptized with the baptism of John.  

Second, there is an attitude of rebellion that is often manifested by those who reject baptism with an appeal to the thief. The simple fact is, the thief displayed true humility and repentance! Why would anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ argue against Great Commission baptism? Why not instead obey the Lord immediately, as the examples of the Book of Acts show (cf. Acts 2:41; 8:12-13; 35-39; 16:30-34; 18:8; 19:1-5)?  

How many cling to the notion that they will “turn to God tomorrow,” not remembering that tomorrow may never come?
Proverbs 27:1-Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.

Luke 12:20-But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’

Friends, the Son of God died on that cross of Calvary to save you from your sins. Don’t put off obeying Him another day!  

If you as a believer need to repent and be baptized into Christ Jesus for remission of your sins (Acts 2:38), then please do so today!  

If you need to return to the Lord through repentance of sin and prayer as a Christian who has already been baptized into Christ and turned from Him (1 John 1:9), then please come back today!  

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.  

Objections To Baptism: The Bible Says That We Are Saved By Believing And This Excludes Baptism!


By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

In every New Testament passage which specifically mentions baptism and salvation, we read that baptism always precedes salvation.  

Matthew 28:19-20-Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Mark 16:15-16-And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

John 3:5-Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 22:16-And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

Romans 6:3-4-Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

1 Corinthians 12:13-For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

Galatians 3;26-27-For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Colossians 2:11-12-11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

Hebrews 10:22-let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

1 Peter 3:20-21-who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Language could not be more clear. As one of my instructors used to say in West Virginia School of Preaching, it takes help to misunderstand this!  

Nevertheless, many in the religious world teach  that baptism is NOT part of God’s plan of redemption, despite the absolutely clear passages of Scripture referenced above.  

In this series of articles, we are going to carefully examine some of the objections that people have raised to baptism being part of the plan of salvation.  

The first argument that we will notice that people raise against baptism goes something like this: 

“Mark, I just cannot believe that a person needs to be baptized to be saved because Jesus said several times that we are saved as soon as we believe!”  

Let’s study.  

We Are Definitely Saved By Believing

The first thing that i would like to point out to you is that I agree 100% that we are saved when we believe! Notice several passages of Scripture which clearly demonstrate this.  

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:

John 3:16-For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

John 3:18-He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

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 8:24-Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

John 11:25-26-Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

John 12:36-While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

John 20:30-31-30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 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.  

These passages from the Gospel of John find further support throughout the New Testament Scriptures (cf. Acts 10:43; 13:38-39; 15:8-9;16:31; Romans 3:21-31; 5:1-2; Galatians 2:16; etc.).  

Without a doubt, the Bible teaches that believers are saved! it is by believing that we are saved from sin.  

Look At “Believe” 

I can hear the triumphant argument now:

“Aha! Well, then, since we are saved by believing, then this means that baptism is not part of the plan of salvation!”  

Not so fast.  

You see, even though all of these passages teach that we are saved by “believing,” they do not say that we are saved by “believing only.”  

Here is what I want to consider with you: the word “believe” actually includes obedience within it.  

The Greek words translated in these passages as “believe” and “believed” comes from pisteuo. Studying this word offers us some very important lessons. Speaking of the lexicon definitions of this word, we learn: 

“Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament gives this definition of pisteuo when used of the faith by which a man embraces Jesus: “A conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah-the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, CONJOINED WITH OBEDIENCE to Christ.”… James M. Whiton abridged Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, and under pisteuo gives these possible meanings: “To believe, trust in, put faith in, confide in, rely on a person or thing.-2. To believe, COMPLY, OBEY.” Bultmann has the article on pisteuo in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament. After giving a history of the use of the word in the Old Testament, he outlines its use in the New Testament. “II. General Usage: 1. The Continuation of the Old Testament and Jewish Tradition: a. pisteuo as to Believe; b. as to OBEY; C. as to Trust; d. as to Hope; e. as Faithfulness.”… The Lexicons reflect the idea advanced earlier in this study that any of the elements of pisteuo (knowledge, assent, confidence, obedience) may be emphasized, and that the context or the construction (certain prepositional phrases) in which it appears will often determine the exact meaning.” (Gareth Reese, Acts: New Testament History, 600-601 (emphasis added, M.T.); Joplin, Missouri; College Press) 

The famous word scholar, William Barclay, further elaborates upon this: 

“If we wish to put this very simply, we may say that through Jesus there is possible a relationship, an intimacy, a unity with God which are possible in no other way. Through what he is and does men may enter into the very life of God himself. (iv) This eternal life comes through what the NT calls belief in Jesus Christ (John 3.15, 16, 36; 5.24; 6.40, 47; I John 5.13; I Tim. 1.16). What does this belief mean? Clearly it is not simply intellectual belief. Belief in Jesus means that we believe absolutely and implicitly that what Jesus says about God is true…..But belief goes even further than that. We believe that God is Father and that God is love, because we believe that Jesus, being the Son of God, has told us the truth about God—and then we act on the belief. We live life in the certainty that we can do nothing other than render a perfect trust and a perfect obedience to God….That belief involves three elements. (i) It involves believing that God is the kind of God Jesus told men about. (ii) It involves the certainty that Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore has the right to speak about God in a way that no one else ever could or ever will be able to speak. (iii) It involves living all life on the assumption that these things are true. When we do that, we share nothing less than the life of God, the power and the peace which God alone can give….(ii) Eternal life demands obedience to God. God’s commandment is eternal life (John 12.50). Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to all that obey him (Heb. 5.9). Only in doing his will is our peace.” (William Barclay, New Testament Words, 534-565 (Kindle Edition); Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press) 

The study of the original language of the New Testament shows us something very important: when someone in the first century heard the word “believe” or pisteuo, they would immediately realize that this INCLUDED OBEDIENCE as well as trust. As the old song says, “Trust AND OBEY.”  

We see this in other ways throughout the New Testament as well.  

For example, consider what Jesus says in John 3:

John 3:36-He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not BELIEVE the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”  

Notice the word “believe” in this passage. In several translations of the Bible, they render this slightly differently: 

John 3:36 (ASV)-He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that OBEYETH not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.

John 3:36 (ERV)-Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. But those who DO NOT OBEY the Son will never have that life. They cannot get away from God’s anger.”

John 3:36 (ISV)-The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who DISOBEYS the Son will not see life. Instead, the wrath of God remains on him.

These translations are pointing out an important fact that we sometimes miss in our study of the Word of God: Jesus used the ideas of ‘belief” and “obedience” interchangeably. Specifically, in John 3:36, the Word interchanges pisteuo with apeitheō.

Notice how this phrase is often translated in other passages in the NKJV:

Romans 2:8-but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth (apeitheō), but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath,


1 Peter 2:7-8-7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient (apeitheō”), THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED HAS BECOME THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE,”. 8 and “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE.” They stumble, being disobedient(apeitheōto) the word, to which they also were appointed.

1 Peter 3:1-Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey (apeitheōto) the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 

1 Peter 3:20-who formerly were disobedient (apeitheōto), when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

Speaking of the specific meaning of this word, one author has well noted: 

“The echo of 3:16 continues, as John puts before his disciples the same stark alternatives Jesus had offered Nicodemus and his companions: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Jesus’ positive intention “that everyone who believes in him might not be lost but have eternal life” (v. 16) comes to realization in the first clause, yet the dualism of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is maintained. As the reader has known from the start (see 1:11), not everyone will believe and not everyone will have eternal life. Verse 36 echoes verse 18, except that the common Johannine expression, “whoever does not believe” (v. 18b), gives way to “whoever disobeys the Son” (v. 36b), a phrase found nowhere else in John’s Gospel. While the contrast with “whoever believes in the Son” (v. 36a) makes clear that the meaning is the same, the CHANGE OF VERB HELPS DEFINE “BELIEVING” AS OBEDIENCE, OR “COMING TO THE LIGHT” (J. Ramsey Michaels, The New International Commentary On The New Testament: The Gospel Of John, 4527-4541 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added M.T.); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) 

Clearly, “obedience” was included in the idea of “believing” in the New Testament Scriptures, and these lexicons, translators, and commentators have pointed this out-even if such observations are in contrast to the religious creeds of Protestantism!  

It is also worth noting that the Scriptures themselves clearly point these things out, in Greek and in English!  
For example, notice what is the unbelieving jailer is told to do to be saved from sin:

Acts 16:31-So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

At this point, Paul and Silas preach the Word of God to him and his family:

Acts 16:32-Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.

What is the result of the jailer and his family hearing the Word of God? 

Acts 16:33-And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.

The jailer (who had been told of his need to pisteuo, or to “trust and obey”) responded with obedient faith and repented of his sins and was baptized the same hour of the night.  

In several Bible studies, I have asked faith only proponents why the jailer would have felt the need to get baptized the same hour of the night, considering the fact that it would have meant the death penalty if he was caught. Why not simply put off his baptism for a more convenient opportunity, if baptism is not necessary for salvation? Clearly, he understood the NEED to be baptized into Christ immediately. This is, of course, in harmony with the biblical pattern of not “putting off” baptism like so many do in our day and age (Acts 2:41; 8:12-13; 35-39; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:15; 18:8; 19:1-5; 22:16).

These people understood the NEED to be baptized, and to do so immediately!  

But do you know what I find truly fascinating and relevant about the jailer and his household?  
Look at the next verse: 

Acts 16:34-Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

Please notice that the jailer’s “having believed in God” clearly INCLUDED his obedience to the Gospel (i.e., his repentance and his baptism)!  

“By Faith” 

Further, the Bible teaches that we are saved “by faith” in several passages of Scripture (such as Romans 5:1-2).

Yet there is a clear difference between being saved “by faith” and being saved “by faith ONLY.” The phrase “by faith” is used eighteen times in Hebrews 11. Notice what we learn by studying these passages: 

Hebrews 11:3-By faith we UNDERSTAND…

Hebrews 11:4-By faith Abel OFFERED…

Hebrews 11:5-By faith Enoch was TAKEN AWAY SO THAT HE DID NOT SEE DEATH…



Hebrews 11:9-:By faith Abraham DWELT IN THE LAND OF PROMISE…


Hebrews 11:17-By faith Abraham…OFFERED UP ISAAC…

Hebrews 11:20-By faith Isaac…BLESED JACOB AND ESAU…

Hebrews 11:21-By faith Jacob…BLESSED…AND WORSHIPPED…




Hebrews 11:27-By faith Moses…FORSOOK EGYPT….HE ENDURED…

Hebrews 11:29-By faith Moses….KEPT THE PASSOVER…

Hebrews 11:30-By faith the walls of Jericho fell down…AFTER THEY WERE ENCIRCLED FOR SEVEN DAYS….

Hebrews 11:31-By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish….WHEN SHE HAD RECEIVED THE SPIES WITH PEACE….

Friends, surely these are sufficient to show us that the people of God clearly understood that “believing” and having ‘faith” included obedience!  

Indeed, is it any wonder that the writer of Hebrews reminds us that Christ is the Author of eternal salvation to all those who OBEY Him (Hebrews 5:8-9)?  


When people in the first century world heard that they needed to ‘believe” in order to be saved, they understood that this included obedience to what Jesus taught.  

So when the Bible teaches that we must believe in Jesus Christ (especially in His death, burial, and resurrection on the third day-1 Corinthians 15:1-8), that we must repent of our sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30-31), that we must confess Him as the Son of God (Acts 8:37; 1 Timothy 6:12-13), that we must be baptized into Him where our sins are forgiven and when we receive all of the spiritual blessings in Christ (Acts 22:16; Ephesians 1:3, 7), and that we must be faithful to Him till death (Revelation 2:10): this is not a contradiction to belief: instead, it is a part of the believing process.  

If you have not truly “believed” in Jesus, I encourage you to do so today. Or if you are a child of God who has wandered away from Him, will you not today repent of the sin in your life and confess your sins to the Lord in prayer, so you may be forgiven and restored to Him and His church (Acts 8:22; 19:18; 1 John 1:9; Revelation 3:20)?

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.  

Interesting Facts From The Temple Of Serapis


By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist) 

In the writings of Socrates, there is found a very interesting passage about the temple of Serapis.  

We read: 

“When the Temple of Serapis was torn down and laid bare, there were found in it, engraven on stones, certain characters which they call hieroglyphics, having the forms of crosses. Both the Christians and pagans on seeing them, appropriated and applied them to their respective religions: for the Christians who affirm that the cross is the sign of Christ’s saving passion, claimed this character as peculiarly theirs; but the pagans alleged that it might appertain to Christ and Serapis in common; for,’ said they, it symbolizes one thing to Christians and another to heathens.’ Whilst this point was controverted amongst them, some of the heathen converts to Christianity, who were conversant with these hieroglyphic characters, interpreted the form of a cross and said that it signifies Life to come.’ This the Christians exultingly laid hold of, as decidedly favorable to their religion. But after other hieroglyphics had been deciphered containing a prediction that When the cross should appear,’—for this was life to come,’—the Temple of Serapis would be destroyed,’ a very great number of the pagans embraced Christianity, and confessing their sins, were baptized. Such are the reports I have heard respecting the discovery of this symbol in form of a cross.” (AETERNA PRESS, The Ecclesiastical History Of Socrates, Scholasticus, 4156-4165 (Kindle Edition)) 

Several things about this predictions rom Serapis stand out and are worthy of our consideration.  

First, let’s look at the identity of this person “Serapis.” Who exactly was he?

One of the ancient church fathers, Melito, has given us a clue to the identity of Serapis when he writes: 

“The Egyptians worshipped Joseph the Hebrew, who was called Serapis, because he supplied them with corn during the years of famine. (Melito (c. 170, E), 8.752) 

One of the names of Joseph, therefore, was Serapis. This is corroborated, in fact, by several other “church fathers.”

Ken Johnson provides an excellent summary of how the Egyptians understood Serapis: 

“Who was Serapis and how was he able to accurately prophesy? The ancient church fathers relate that Serapis was one of the Egyptian names given to Joseph, son of Jacob. Joseph knew that in time the Egyptians would worship him as they did most of the ancestral kings. So he built a library to house the oracles of the one true God of the Hebrews, and carved the prophecy into the stone walls of the library. In time it was perverted into a pagan temple, and Sarapis became synonymous with the god O s iris. When worshiped under the figure of a bull , he is called Apis.” (Ken Johnson, Th.D., Ancient Prophecies Revealed: 500 Prophecies Listed In Order Of When They Were Fulfilled, 76 (Kindle Edition); BibleFacts.org) 

Second, this identification of Serapis with Joseph helps us to understand the powerful prophecy that was here manifest. Joseph was a Prophet of God through whom the Lord revealed the future. For example, we are told:

Genesis 41:25-Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do:

Joseph made it clear that his knowledge of the future and of interpreting dreams came from the Almighty, and not from Joseph himself:

Genesis 41:16-So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”

Jospeh, the Prophet of God, was able to see into the future. This ability was given to the Prophets as an evidence to the people that they were truly serving the one true God:

Isaiah 41:21-24-21 “Present your case,” says the LORD. “Bring forth your strong reasons,” says the King of Jacob. 22 “Let them bring forth and show us what will happen; Let them show the former things, what they were, That we may consider them, And know the latter end of them; Or declare to us things to come. 23 Show the things that are to come hereafter, That we may know that you are gods; Yes, do good or do evil, That we may be dismayed and see it together. 24 Indeed you are nothing, And your work is nothing; He who chooses you is an abomination.  

Amos 3:7-Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.

The pagans often had knowledge of the Gospel of Christ (as reflected in their writings) because they incorporated the prophecies from the Hebrews.  

“The influence of ancient Judaism is evident throughout different cultures.85 Monotheism and the prophecies of a Savior, born of a virgin, sacrificed for sins, and resurrected can be found throughout the Old Testament documents. The first book of the Old Testament, Genesis, was recorded approximately 1446 BC (oral tradition likely preserving it for countless years prior to that date), and the entire Old Testament was translated into Greek around 250 BC, making it available in the common language of the Hellenistic empire that extended to the ends of the known world. Since the Old Testament prophesied of the virgin-born Messiah, it is not surprising that the story spread before Christ’s first advent. An Egyptian papyrus dated to 340 BC reveals, “Who is the author of Re-birth? The Son of God, the One Man, by God’s Will.”86 And from another source, dated to approximately the same time, “The Lord and maker of all . . . from himself made the second God, the Visible . . . whom he loved as his Son.” Although not in agreement with Christian doctrine as to the nature of the Son, these two writings predate Christianity and point to what can be considered a common knowledge. Old Testament history (both oral and written) provides a basis for the existence of mutual knowledge, since the cultural and religious practices of neighboring and distant nations is referenced several times by different authors. In light of these historical facts, the Savior myth can be seen as a common belief emerging from the similar nature of human beings, a diffusion of knowledge from a central base—the Middle East, and the direct result of the distortion of biblical prophecy. Common knowledge produced generally similar stories whose details were invariably different.” (Walter Martin, Jill Martin, Rische Kurt, Van Gorden, The Kingdom Of The Occult, 112-113 (Kindle Edition); Nashville,, Tn; Thomas Nelson)  

Third, this information about the temple of Serapis reveals to us the fact that Joseph had told the people long before the time of Christ about the religion that the Creator world bring to the world which would herald salvation. What would be the sign of this new religion?

The cross!  

It is important for us to realize that numerous events in the Bible pointed to what Jesus would accomplish at Calvary. It is no wonder that Paul reminds us:

1 Corinthians 1:18-For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

When Jesus died for the sins of mankind on the cross of Calvary, He was paving the way for us to be saved and redeemed.  

Colossians 1:20-and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

The Gospel (Good News) is primarily about the atoning death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). What incredibly good news this is for those who are being saved!  

Finally, please notice that the pagans responded in precisely the correct way to this knowledge. Having heard the Word of God, they as believers repented and were baptized into Christ. In Scripture, we are told:

Acts 2:41-Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

Acts 8:12-13-But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.

Acts 8:38-So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.

Acts 9:18-Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.

Acts 10:47-48-47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.

Acts 16:14-15-14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.  

Acts 16:33-And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.

Acts 18:8-Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.

Acts 19:5-When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Acts 22:16-And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

Why not follow their example and turn your life to the Lord friends?  

Or if you are a child of God who has turned away from the Lord, why not repent today and confess your sins to the Lord in prayer (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9)?  

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.  

“I Can’t Become A Christian Because I Know That I’ll Mess Up”

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

Over my years of preaching the Gospel, I have been richly blessed to speak with several individuals about lots of different topics.

One of the topics that has come up more times then I can count deals with excuses people make about not wanting to become a Christian.   Continue reading “I Can’t Become A Christian Because I Know That I’ll Mess Up”

Original Sin?

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

One of the prominent teachings of our day and age is that children are born as sinners.

This teaching (largely borrowed from the Catholic Church) embodies the idea that humans are born as sinners as a direct result of the sins of Adam and Eve.

Of course, Scripture is clear that children do not inherit the sins of their parents.

For example, Ezekiel the Prophet declared:

Ezekiel 18:20-The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. Continue reading Original Sin?