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Combating Legalism II

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Question #1:  

I have heard many different responses on how to be saved. I believe that in order to be saved we have to have genuine faith/repent in Christ and His saving work on the cross, and be baptized not to be saved but because it is commanded and anyone who is really saved will do as Jesus commands. I've heard some answers such as:

1.Just believe

2.It's easy as the Gospel

3.Say the sinners prayer

4.Trust in Christ's finished work

To me, that can confuse people and I think some people will be damned to an eternity in hell because they don't know the truth of salvation. I would like to know what you think about the answers above, are they dangerous and can they save people? Thanks in advance!

Response #1: 

Let me start by emphasizing that God wants everyone to be saved (Ezek.18:23; Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9). Not only that, but He has provided salvation for every single human being by sacrificing His one and only dear Son our Lord Jesus for all of our sins.

For God loved the world so much that He gave [up] His only Son, [with the purpose] that everyone who believes in Him should not be lost [forever], but have eternal life [instead].
John 3:16

Since God has done everything, salvation is effortless – for all who desire it. In fact, all a person needs to be saved is to "not say 'no'" to the precious gift of Jesus Christ.

Your question is one of mechanics, and it is an important one of course. The next installment of the Basics series (Soteriology) will address just this issue in detail, but as that is some long way off at time of writing I will try to give a short overview here.

I would like to say a couple of things right from the outset. First, because God wants us to be saved and because Jesus has already done all the work of salvation, the truth is that everyone who has ever truly wanted to be saved has been / will be. No one is going to hell because of an accident, a mistake, or a small piece of misinformation. The only people going to hell (and unfortunately that will be the vast majority of the human race) are those who in truth did not wish to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It wasn't that "they didn't understand the gospel message properly", but rather that they didn't want to accept the free gift of Jesus Christ. Whether they wanted to work and not receive salvation freely, or whether they wanted God the Father without the Son, or whether in truth they wanted nothing to do with God whatsoever (even if for whatever reason they chose to play the "religion game"), God knows every heart perfectly, and He will demonstrate at the last judgment the truth of every heart's motivations, no matter what the person has said and no matter how things may have appeared to the rest of us. All who seek, find. All who knock, are opened unto. All who ask, receive. God has done everything and continues to do everything for all to be saved. Those who reject Him and His Son, actively or passively, do so with their own hard hearts and stiff necks (even if they seem like "nice people" to us here in the world).

"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved."
Acts 16:30 NIV

As the verse above makes clear, salvation is assured on the basis of belief-in-Christ. I have hyphenated this phrase because it seems to me that people have a tendency to fixate on "believe" and forget "Christ". Jesus is the object of our faith, His Person and His work. We have to believe in and accept Him as He is and what He has done for us as the means of our salvation in order to be saved. So when people say "believe" or "just believe", that is fine, I suppose, but the validity of the statement does depend on what is meant thereby. As I say, this is a theological problem but not really much of an evangelistic one, because as soon as a person who understands that they really do need a way out of death and damnation and are willing to respond God's way in order to receive it hears the good news about Jesus they are going to be saved before you can even get around to explaining to them the mechanics as you understand them (whether or not you understand them entirely correctly):

"We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.
Acts 10:39-44

Indeed, the very fact that so many genuine Christians seem confused about the precise mechanics of salvation is proof positive that God's message and our reception of it is more powerful than any set of "rules" we might want to posit in our attempts to understand these things – because the very people who are offering you differing opinions are most likely all saved!

God knows who belongs to Him. And He also knows very well who wants to and who will as soon as they hear the gospel of truth. Coming to Jesus is like having the lights switched on in a pitch-black room. All of sudden, we see things clearly where before we were just groping around in the dark.

For God who said, "Let light shine forth from the darkness!", is He who has shone forth [His light] into our hearts to illuminate our knowledge of God's glory in the Person of Jesus Christ.
2nd Corinthians 4:6

And in this we are different from the rest of the world who prefer darkness to light (Jn.3:19-20). But all those who love the light, come to the light (Jn.3:21).  If we tell people who are truly interested the truth about Jesus Christ, that He is true God and true Man, having taken on humanity to come into the world to die in our place, that He bore all of our sins and washed them away with the blood of His sacrifice, and that eternal life instead of damnation is freely offered and obtained by accepting Him, believing in Him, seeking shelter in Him, loving Him, following Him, then however we say it (if what we say is true and complete), this will be more than enough for the Holy Spirit to use. The person listening who wants to be saved will be saved. What happens will happen marvelously and miraculously beyond our sight. And the light will switch on. It will only be later on that the person – if harangued by someone who is hung up on mechanics – may start to wonder about how (or if) they were saved. But in a good place where the truth is being taught we may expect that the new Christian will be nurtured in the Word from day one and will quickly build up the spiritual muscle necessary to endure this and all the other sort of legalistic, Satanic attacks of which the world and life are full. The sad thing of course is that there are very few such safe places today (Ichthys was launched in response to this dearth).

Those who answered your question "1.Just believe; 2.It's easy as the Gospel; 4.Trust in Christ's finished work", depending upon what they mean by these things, fall into the category of what I said above. I prefer quoting the Bible about salvation through Jesus, and then actually explaining the Person and work of Christ from the Bible. Focusing upon what WE "must do" rather than what "Christ did" is the big problem here and the source of all of the confusion.

Finally, while being "fuzzy" about the true mechanics of salvation when giving the gospel can be problematic (especially if the emphasis is placed on the listener instead of on Jesus Christ), ADDING to the gospel is a horrendous sin:

1) There is no such thing as a "sinner's prayer", at least in the Bible, and there is nothing like this related to the process of salvation. Everyone already knows he/she is going to die and everyone knows he/she is a sinner worthy of condemnation – that information is "baked in God's cake", the way He has made us and made the universe (e.g., Eccl.3:11; Rom.1:18 - 2:16). Those who will not face the one and/or have hardened their hearts against the other are not going to accept Jesus no matter how many prayers of whatever sort you get them to pray. But to add this sort of nonsense to a gospel appeal not only won't help the person in question be saved, but I also have to question the salvation of the people who do such things. For it seems that their own personal sense of self-righteousness is really more important to them than the salvation of other people, and that is hardly an indication that they are truly following Jesus Christ.

2) Water-baptism should NEVER EVEN BE MENTIONED in the same breath with salvation. If a person even so much as assumes that water-baptism has ANYTHING to do with salvation then they may indeed be resting on THEIR OWN works instead of on the work of Christ: such people are NOT saved. Anyone who tells you that water-baptism is necessary for salvation or even suggests it to a minimal degree is at best a spiritual infant; at worst the person may be unsaved and a pawn of the devil. Water-baptism is not only not required for salvation, it is unnecessary in the Church. Indeed, it has almost always done more harm than good in the Church, starting with the days of the apostles. Jesus never told us to be water-baptized. He told the apostles to spread the gospel and the baptism of the Holy Spirit thereby. That is the biblical meaning of the so-called "Great Commission".

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through whom we have eternal salvation.

Bob L.

Question #2:   

Dear Dr. Luginbill

After reading your exposition on the differences between the "Baptism of John" and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, I agree that it is only the latter which occurs with saving faith which is required for salvation. I am curious though, that there is no mention of John 3:5 which says "If one is not generated out of water AND Spirit, he is not able to enter the kingdom of God" (Litv). Other translations often use borne to replace generated in the above verse, but I feel both seem to convey the necessity of both water and Spirit baptism. I am not a scholar of Greek, and am curious on how you would reconcile this verse with your several other answers to the question of water baptism?

Yours in Christ,

Response #2:  

This is obviously an important passage for understanding precisely how we are saved. The first thing I should like to say about it is that our Lord in the marvelous way He often did approaches this subject in terms that allow those of hardened hearts to misinterpret on a physical level instead of understanding correctly on a spiritual level. Thus, when Jesus tells Nikodemus "unless a person is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (Jn.3:3), the deeper meaning here only exists on the spiritual level. Nikodemus, along with his peers, expected the Messiah to bring in immediately a physical kingdom, but Jesus reverses this expectation. That Nikodemus doesn't understand Jesus' statement is abundantly clear when in verse 4 he talks about a man entering his mother's womb a second time, misunderstanding the spiritual principle on a purely physical plain.

This is the context for Jesus' explanation about the mechanics of salvation: invisible/spiritual over visible/physical; for it is in the invisible and the spiritual realm that all the power of the truth really lies. That is why I would prefer to translate instead of "born again", "born from above" (or at least gloss the translation thus), as the Greek word here (anothen) can and often does mean either of these things. We have to be "born from above" (i.e., through the invisible power of God) as well as "born a second time". Clearly, this being born again/from-above is something spiritual rather than physical, and we know from this context in John 3:16 that faith, belief in Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah who was about to die for our sins, is the spiritually operative element on our side of the equation, not water baptism or any other physical act.

So what does "born from water and Spirit" in John 3:5 really mean? The second element seems pretty clear to me and from your e-mail not to be an issue for you either. The capitalization I use here shows that my understanding of the word pneuma here is that it is a reference to the Holy Spirit who, as we know from elsewhere in scripture, plays such an important role in our salvation: He is the One who accomplishes the mechanics of salvation on behalf of all who believe (as Jesus makes clear here in the very next verse: ""that which is born of the Spirit is spirit"; see also Jn.3:8; Tit.3:5; 1Pet.1:2; cf. Matt.3:11).

And we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God rescued you from the beginning for salvation by 1) the sanctification of the Spirit and by 2) faith in the truth.
2nd Thessalonians 2:13

The verse above actually has the same two elements as does John 3:5, just phrased somewhat differently. The mechanics of salvation for individual human beings, having been made possible for all through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross, has two essential elements 1) what God does and has done, and 2) what we do in response. Our part is very clearly to exercise non-meritorious faith and nothing else (Eph.2:8-9). God's part is variously described but clearly has to do with the work of the Spirit in effecting the transformation of actually making us children of God (and He is the seal of the transformation: 2Cor.1:22; 5:5; Eph.1:14).

But in respect to our part in the mechanics of salvation, the key question is "faith in what?". Even the demons "believe" that God exists (Jas.2:19); indeed, they could not fail to know it. But they do not accept His truth. Thus truth is the object of faith, and the gospel in its bare essentials has to be the understanding and recognition of the Person and work of Jesus Christ – not merely an intellectual appreciation of the theological concepts, but a giving over of one's will to the reality that through faith in Christ and faithfulness to Him we are delivered from sin and death. This is what cleanses us, what refreshes us, what gives us rebirth and renewal, with the Spirit acting as the "mid-wife" of this new birth from above through faith in that truth.

Now in very straightforward and easily accessible biblical symbolism, "water" is also often used to express this same idea of God's truth, and for obvious reasons: physically we can't live without water, and water is what cleanses us physically and refreshes us physically. Just so, we can't become alive spiritually, and are only cleansed and refreshed spiritually by the water of the truth. Thus it is that water is a very common biblical symbol for the truth of God's Word which accomplishes all these same things spiritually as in the next chapter of John where Jesus refers to the gospel as the "living/life-giving water" (Jn.4:10). This is why the eternal New Jerusalem has, in addition to the tree of life (a provision before the fall), a river of "living/life-giving" water that proceeds from the throne of God, among other things a very clear symbol of the eternal life which results from faith in the truth of the gospel, the Word of God (contrast the river of fire [eternal condemnation] that obtained before Christ's sacrifice and victory: compare Dan.7:10 with Rev.22:1).

And the Spirit and the bride say "Come!"
And let the one who hears say, "Come!"
And let the one who is thirsty come;
let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.
Revelation 22:17

Christ is the Rock from which there issued forth the life giving water that saved the physical lives of the Israelites (Ex 17:5-6 and Num 20:8), but this is definitely meant to be symbolic of the water of the truth of the gospel that wells up unto eternal life (1Cor.10:4; see the link: "Moses striking the Rock"). When Christ is said to cleanse and sanctify His Church (the same phraseology used for the mechanics of the Holy Spirit accomplishing salvation), He does it "by washing with water through the Word" (Eph.5:26).

(19) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence in this access of ours into the [heavenly] holy of holies by the blood of Jesus, an entryway, so to speak, through the veil (which is His flesh), (20) an entrance which is new and alive and which He has consecrated, (21) and since we have [this] great high priest over the household of God, (22) let us pray with a truthful heart in complete faith, our hearts sprinkled [clean] of [any] bad conscience and our bodies washed with pure water [of the Word].
Hebrews 10:19-22

There are numerous such instances (Is.55:1; Jn.3:5; 3:8 [Greek]; Jn.4:10; 4:13-14; 7:37-39; 1Cor.10:4; Eph.5:26; Heb.10:22; 1Jn.5:8; Rev.7:17; 21:6; 22:1; 22:17; cf. Ex 17:5-6; Num. 20:8; Ps.36:8-9; 42:1-2; 63:1; 84:5-7; Is.8:6; 12:3; 41:17; 44:3; 55:10-11; Jer.2:13; 17:13; 1Cor.3:6-7; Heb.6:7), but the essential point should be fairly clear by now, namely, that the water in John 3:5 is not mere physical water indicating anything to do with water baptism (far from it), but rather it refers to the spiritual water that eternally refreshes us, cleanses us, and is the life-giving means of entering into eternal life, namely, the water of the Word (and the gospel in particular):

Not out of works of righteousness which we have done, but [God] saved us by His own mercy, through the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.
Titus 3:5

But whoever drinks from the water I give to him will not thirst [again] forever, but the water I give to him will become in him a fountain of water welling up unto eternal life.
John 4:14

Just as faith is non-meritorious, drinking is also a very simple act in which there is no intrinsic merit or work. What better symbol of accepting the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ could there be? All we have to do is to drink.

In our Lord Jesus in whom we have believed so that we have the Spirit within us, welling up to eternal life,

Bob L.

Question #3:    

Dr. Luginbill,

Thank you for your prompt reply. I am always amazed at how quickly you answer questions, and I imagine mine is not the only one you likely received yesterday. Where do you find time to keep up with your "job" as professor? I will share a humorous anecdote from my brother which may have the answer for me.

My brother knew a fellow high school music teacher who, in his spare time, completed a masters of conducting degree, and then went on to teach at the collegiate level. Having been used to doing everything on his own, and working long arduous hours, he continued this approach at the university level. A fellow professor from another department approached him one day with some advice, saying "You need to slow down a little, my friend. Here at the university we get paid to think, so take some time to do only that." I praise God that it seems you have enough thinking time to answer our questions!

With regard to your answer, I do understand the possibility of the water being purely symbolic, but wonder why Jesus would challenge a man who could not even comprehend the idea of being born again with a less obvious analogy? I understand there are many levels of biblical truth, such as the directed message to Nicodemis, and then perhaps the more broad message to the universal church. And as you have so aptly illustrated, it is important to let the Bible interpret itself. I am still having difficulty understanding in my study which passages are "literal" and which are "symbolic", and how to tell the difference.

Thanking you in advance,

Response #3:

As to the professoriate, it has turned out to be an ideal situation for me and for this ministry. If I had a traditional church, I don't think I would be producing these materials; and if I had a "regular job", I don't think I'd be producing them at this level and in this volume. Even so, things go slower than I would like. I have been trying to two-track Bible Basics and Coming Tribulation and as a result, what with a number of time-consuming events in my life over the past few years, have been slowed down in getting these next installments done and out. I very much appreciate your anticipation, and will use that for motivation to try and pick up the pace.

As to Nikodemus et al., you make some good points. The answer to discovering symbolism is simple yet unhelpful: everything in the Bible is literal unless it's symbolic, in which case we need to understand it as such. If we are too "literal", we risk seeing e.g., the "Lamb of God" as a true quadruped; if we are too prone to seeing everything in symbolic terms, even the deity of Christ can be called into question. God forbid we fall into either extremist trap! The church visible very often strays too far in one direction or the other. Good biblical interpretation, unfortunately or fortunately, while based upon sound preparation and diligent study, is as much of an art as it is a science. I think from your question and our interaction here that it is pretty clear, however, that for those who are truly interested in getting to the bottom of precisely what the Bible really does have to say, the range of areas and specific instances where one is in danger of getting it completely wrong are in fact fairly limited. A little Christian common sense and experience in these matters goes a long way. This is a "bicycle" issue: just as you have to be going forward at a certain speed on a bicycle to maintain your balance, so those who "fall over" in exegesis usually do so because they are not going anywhere in the first place (crescit eundo, as they say).

As to our Lord's motivation in using the discussed approach, I would make two very brief points. First, the actual mechanics of the Spirit's role in our salvation would perhaps be even less helpful in this situation, especially for someone like Nikodemus who would as yet not be ready for a discussion about the Trinity (cf. 1Cor.2:10-16). Secondly, Nikodemus would have had a predisposition not to understand this water in John 3 as water baptism. That is because the only water-baptism of which he would have been aware or could have had in mind in this context is the baptism of John (indeed, in my view the only true water baptism, even in the early Church: all the nonsense about water-baptism being necessary or having anything to do with salvation came later).

We may safely assume that since the hardhearted Pharisees had gone to be baptized by John if only for appearance' sake, then someone like Nikodemus who was obviously genuinely searching for the truth would likely have done so as well – yet he was very aware of not being saved. Having been most likely already water-baptized yet not saved, Jesus' remark about being born again "by water and Spirit" would certainly not have suggested to him that he needed dunking (again), but rather would have reminded him of all the Old Testament passages relating water to life and truth (where, in fact, most of this symbolism is found; e.g., Ps.33:4-5; 36:8-9; 68:26; Is.8:6; 12:3; 55:1; 55:10-11; Jer.2:13; 17:13; Zech.13:1). The fact that Nikodemus did in fact (eventually) "get it" (Jn.7:50; 19:39), seems to suggest to me that after consideration of Jesus' words this professional "Bible interpreter" figured out, in the context of all that Jesus later had very straightforwardly told him about faith (Jn.3:16 et al.), that it was indeed by faith in the truth that a person is saved (rather than by keeping the Law) - and that this was what our Lord had meant by "water and Spirit".

Thank you again so much for your enthusiasm, encouragement, and love for the Word of God.

In Him in whom all the treasures of wisdom dwell, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #4:  

I want to forget about the subject "authority of pastors" because it has caused dissension among my friends, but thanks for your help. I got an email from an old friend this morning and in it she was telling everyone to go to a non-denom church that believes the bible. So I emailed her back asking why she would specifically say non-denom? This was her reply.

I like non-denominational churches because we believe every word in the Bible was inspired by God as where some other denominations pick certain parts of the Bible they believe in like the Catholics, etc. I went to a Baptist church before where you had to be baptized to be a member. Baptism is a symbol of dying to the flesh and being raised again in Christ. You should be able to be a member of a church, but baptism is a choice a person has to make when they are ready to lay down their lives and to be reborn with Christ. Previously I attended 2 other non-denominational churches that are all spirit filled and still believe in speaking in tongues, etc.

Just how unbiblical is this?

Response #4: 

By "unbiblical" I assume you are speaking of water-baptism? As I believe I have already written at length several times, my position is very clear regarding both water baptism and tongues. I do not believe that the latter is still legitimately in operation today, though I would be very happy if it were and would not oppose genuine tongues (I just do not believe what we see today is anything like what the Bible describes; see the link for references: "All things Charismatic"). As to water baptism, in essence my position is that baptizing with water was John's baptism; baptizing with the Spirit is Jesus' promised baptism, the "one baptism" of Eph.4:5. I think the fact that this person's church has yet another unique "meaning" and "significance" for water-baptism tells the tale: the fact that no one can agree on what water-baptism even means stems for the true reality that it was never a legitimate ritual for the Church. You can find many links in the following link: "Baptism and following Jesus". One of the main problems with the activity is that it legalistically opposes true spirituality – but we are of the Spirit, not the Law, ever since the day of Pentecost, and that is what is truly glorious.

Now if the [Law's] ministry of death – engraved with letters written on stone – imparted glory of a type such that the Israelites were not allowed to keep continually beholding Moses' face (because this glory of his face was fading), then how could the Spirit's ministry of life not impart greater glory? For if the [Law's] ministry of condemnation possessed glory, then so much the more should the ministry of justification surpass it in glory. In fact, the glory of the former seems altogether lacking in glory in comparison to the surpassing glory of the latter. For if what fades away has glory, then so much the more is it true that what abides (i.e. the ministry of the Spirit to believers) is glorious.
2nd Corinthians 3:7-11 

In our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #5:  

Dear Mr. Luginbill,

When I got to thinking about the question that my friend asked I came to realize that I believe that your last email to me has already given the answer. If I understand correctly since she wasn't living for Jesus then she wasn't a Christian so since she feels as if she has now dedicated her life to Him then she would need to be baptized. My friend is scared of water that is why she is wondering. If my understanding is wrong please let me know, I don't want to give her misinformation. Thank you so much for your time. I hope that I haven't become a bother to you. By the way, thank you for explaining that it is about how you live, I get confused by my feelings, and then scared and then the cycle of doubt starts. Thank you for your patience with me.


Response #5:  

No bother at all. You are quite welcome. I do have to tell you, however, I am not a "fan" of water-baptism. In my reading of the scriptures, John spoke of only two baptisms, his own water-baptism, and the Spirit baptism of the coming Messiah.

I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
Mark 1:8 KJV

Since the first Pentecost of the Church, all who believe in Jesus Christ now receive the Spirit upon putting their faith in Him (Rom.8:9). That is why Paul assures us that there is only "one baptism", that is the important one, the baptism of the Spirit (Eph.4:5), and why he can also say to the Corinthians in the context of not being concerned whether or not they had been water-baptized or by whom that "Christ did not send me to baptize but to give the gospel" (1Cor.1:17). And that is also why water-baptism is not commanded or directed in any of the New Testament epistles. I know that water-baptism occurs throughout Acts, but there it is a transitional device associated with John's baptism for repentance (and John's ministry, after all, was concerned with the coming Messiah who had even by then already come), and, importantly, used by apostles to mediate the Holy Spirit as in Acts 2:38-40 (whereas now the Spirit is given automatically to all who believe).

I am also well aware of the "Great Commission", but would point out that in Matthew 28:16-20 Jesus is pointing forward here to Spirit not water baptism; for how can we be literally baptized into the Persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (this is not a formula to be pronounced even though it is used as one today, since Greek says into, not "in")? Not by immersion in water could we ever become one with God; only by the work of the Spirit who enters into union with Christ upon salvation is Christ's mandate fulfilled. The complete explanation is very long, so I would ask you and your friend to have a look at the following links, and I would of course also be happy to answer any further questions you have on the matter:

Baptism: Water and Spirit

Baptism and Following Jesus

Is Water Baptism Required of Christians Today?

The "Baptism which now saves you".

Is Baptism required for salvation?

In the Lord Jesus who has poured out His Spirit so richly upon us.

Bob L.

Question #6:    


I just wanted to get your explanation on Mark 16 v16. How would you response to that verse whereupon Jesus said that "whoever believes and is baptized is saved,...."


Response #6:

This passage you quote is not a genuine part of the Bible. The gospel of Mark actually ends with verse eight of chapter sixteen. There are two other endings that were added some centuries after Mark wrote, no doubt by "well meaning" scholars who thought something had been left out because of the abrupt ending, and concocted these two alternative endings, partially from the other gospels, partially right out of thin air. The only reason the "longer" and "shorter" endings (as they are commonly called) are even generally known to the public is because they were erroneously added to the King James version. The reason for this false addition to the Word in a translation that is in many ways very good is on account of the Greek text supplied to the translation teams at Oxford, Cambridge and the University of London. This was a composite text (rather than a sole manuscript) distilled from the best manuscripts available at the time (most of which were, unfortunately, all rather late Byzantine texts). Because this was a team effort, all the teams and translators were obliged to translate the composite "received" text (known as the /Textus Receptus/ or TR) even in instances like this where there were known and obvious manuscript problems.

Since the seventeenth century, a whole host of additional and in fact much earlier witnesses to the text as actually penned by the apostles and their associates have become available. From these earlier witnesses, it is now possible to confirm with what I would deem a complete degree of certitude that neither the shorter version nor the longer one (from which you quote) are original to the actual Bible. In other words, Mark did not write these words. There is a good deal of "internal evidence" in the original Greek to show that this is true (I will not go into this: suffice it to say, the language itself indicates that Mark didn't write it, because the style and vocabulary differ significantly from the rest of the Gospel), but as to the textual evidence, let me quote briefly from A Textual Commentary on the New Testament by Dr. Bruce Metzger (pp.122-123):

The last twelve verses [of Mark 16, i.e., 9-20] of the common text (i.e., TR) are absent from the two oldest Greek manuscripts ( and B), from the Old Latin codex Bobiensis, the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts (written A.D. 897 and 913). Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore Eusebius and Jerome attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them. The original form of the Eusebian sections (drawn up by Ammonius) makes no provision for numbering sections of the text [of Mark] after 16:8. Not a few manuscripts which contain the passage have scribal notes stating that older Greek copies lack it, and in other witnesses the passage is marked with asterisks or obeli, the conventional signs used by copyists to indicate a spurious addition to a document.

What all this means in a nutshell is that there is overwhelming evidence for the fact that these verses are not genuinely the Word of God. There is no other reason why they would have been universally left out in the early days of the Church. Thankfully, the number of instances in which this sort of thing have happened is rather small. With the help of much hard work of scholars over the centuries and the tools widely available today in book form and over the Internet, it is possible to discern such intrusions with relative ease. For two other famous intrusions into the text, please see these links:

In BB 4A Christology, "The Interpolation, 'Father, forgive them'"

Which is Better? The KJV or the New KJV?


Hope this helps with your question.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill

Question #7:  

Thanks Bob for your prompt reply. My objection to the interpretation that the verse in Matthew relates to baptism of the Holy Spirit would be whether we as Christians can baptize another with the baptism of the Holy Spirit since the baptism of the Holy Spirit can only come from God. Would I be correct?

Looking forward to your reply.

Response #7: 

If Jesus were talking about water baptism in Matthew 28, then I would certainly agree. And, indeed, that is how the verses you cite are nearly universally taken. I do not, however, concur. For a number of reasons which I personally find very telling, I am convinced that our Lord was referring to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit:

1) The verb, "baptizing them" is the same whether used for water or Spirit.

2) Nowhere else does Jesus make an issue of water baptism (with the exception of His mention of John's baptism; see point 4).

3) Rather, Jesus' focus is consistently on the coming baptism of the Spirit (Jn.7:39; 14:15ff.; 15:16ff.; 16:15ff.; *Acts 1:4-5).

4) John the baptist also associated Spirit baptism with the Messiah in contrast to his own water baptism (Jn.1:33).

5) Paul tells us that for the Church there is only "one baptism" (Eph.4:5), and that is incontrovertibly Spirit baptism.

6) Paul also tells us very specifically that he did not water-baptize the majority of his congregation in Corinth (1Cor.1:13-17), and that Christ sent him "not to baptize [with water], but to preach the gospel" (1Cor.1:17).

7) Although water baptism does happen on a number of occasions in the book of Acts, a) it is not universally related in every case of conversion, and b) in the case of the conversion of Cornelius' household in particular, we see the baptism of the Spirit following directly upon faith in Christ (Act 10:34-48).

8) Water baptism is never mentioned in the epistles as either necessary or even recommended (although the Spirit is mentioned over and over again).

Based upon the above, I think that it is easy to conclude that water baptism was, essentially, synonymous with the baptism of John "for repentance" in the thinking of the early Church (Matt.3:11; Mk.1:4; Lk.3:3; Acts 13:24), and that its occasional use in the book of Acts during the transitional period of the apostles was itself transitional and meant 1) to connect John's ministry (which figured huge in the thinking of that generation in matters relating to salvation) to faith in Jesus, the One to whom John's ministry looked forward, and 2) as a means to mediate the baptism of the Spirit by the apostles' laying on of hands (in the very early days following Pentecost).

We can in fact see the transition and the stages of the transition in Luke's account in Acts, beginning with a direct association of water-baptism at the point of salvation as a means and symbol of the mediation of the Spirit to the point where such mediation was no longer necessary (as the gospel spread out beyond its Jewish origins to the gentiles where John's baptism was largely unknown):

1) Water baptism of John: this is pre-cross and pre-Pentecost and clearly distinguished by John from the coming work of the Messiah who would "baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matt.3:11). True water-baptism thus looks forward to the coming of the Messiah and His sacrifice, and is meant to "prepare" the Jewish people to be receptive to Him (Lk.1:17).

2) Water baptism in the name of Christ: This of course is what Peter proposes at Pentecost for the Jewish believers who respond to the miraculous signs of that day. Note, however, that a) apparently none of the men upon whom the Spirit initially fell are likewise water-baptized with this supposedly "new water-baptism", and b) the reason for the water baptism of the listeners is specifically connected to receiving the Spirit: "Repent (and, he said, be baptized, each of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ) for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). By invoking repentance as the grounds of forgiveness (which is certainly possible without water baptism), Peter directly connects Jesus' Messiahship (which these new believers are learning to accept for the first time) to the baptism of John (which they would have known very well); but the reason for the exercise of water baptism on that occasion is to mediate the baptism of the Spirit (they are undeniably connected here): and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (as they had witnessed the others just having received).

3) The mediation of the Spirit after being water-baptized in Christ's Name: The Samaritans, whom one might characterize as "half-Jewish", did not automatically receive the Spirit upon hearing Phillip's teaching and being water-baptized in the Name of Christ, and therefore the Jerusalem church sent the apostles Peter and John to them; these two then directly mediated the baptism of the Spirit by laying their hands on these new believers (i.e., without any additional application of water: Acts 8:4-17; we see a similar event in Paul's mediation of the Spirit to certain "Ephesian disciples" at Acts 19:1-7 where though often assumed, no water is specifically mentioned as present in this "baptism" which may have only consisted of the laying on of Paul's hands).

The story of Simon Magus is very instructive here; his misguided wish to be able to do the same and Peter's reproach illustrate very clearly the reason for the gift of the Spirit in this particular way in the early days of the gospel, namely, to underscore the authority of the apostles, a very necessary thing at the very beginning of the Church. The ending of apostolic times with the death of the last of the twelve, the apostle John, meant numerous changes for the Church, not the least of which were the completion of the canon of scripture and the termination of many of the miraculous gifts, gifts which were no longer needed now that the Church was on her feet and in possession of a complete Bible, and now that there were no longer any apostles whose authority needed to be similarly reinforced and supplemented by these sorts of gifts (such gifts would also be potentially distracting from thereon from what should be the true focus of the Church: the Living Word Jesus Christ as seen in His written Word, the Bible). The end of water-baptism as a transitional ritual should likewise have faded out entirely, and the evidence from the epistles suggests that it did – from the apostles' own ministries, at any rate. It was however, either sentimentally retained or re-instituted in many churches, the process gathering momentum over the centuries, with water-baptism ever changing in its form and especially in its putative symbolism, thus becoming a grave distraction to the truth.

4) By the time that the Spirit begins to see to the spread of the gospel to the gentiles, we see Him falling upon them when they believe with no further mediation through water-baptism or through the laying on of the apostles' hands (i.e., Cornelius and co. are baptized with the Spirit even before the water could be administered: Acts 10:44-47).

5) During the latter days of the Apostles, the ritual is sometimes conducted, sometimes not (1Cor.1:13-17). The important thing is the gospel (1Cor.1:17), since all from those days forward receive the Spirit when they believe (Rom.8:9; cf. Jn.14:17; 2Tim.1:14; Heb.6:4). Therefore there is now only "one baptism", that is, the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Eph.4:5), meaning that water baptism is henceforth superfluous.

Without misunderstanding Matthew 28:8-20, I dare say that more Christians would draw the same conclusions from the above evidence. However, the way the passage is often translated, and, more importantly, the way it is often erroneously (and carelessly) interpreted has greatly contributed to the false notion that water baptism is a requirement for the Church.

Then Jesus came over and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me, so go and make all nations my followers by baptizing them [with the Spirit] into the Person (i.e., "name") of the Father and [into the Person] of the Son and [into the Person] of the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you."
Matthew 28:18-20a

The above translation is my own, and I believe that it clears up (with the expanded notes) what our Lord was really saying. The apostles were to see to it that the predestined peoples of "all nations" became Christians, that is, the mission of the Church, and a major part of that process, a very key and important one, was and remains the baptism of the Spirit. The apostles, especially in the early days, would have to see to this through personally interacting with the new believers, laying their hands on them. Later, they would mediate the Spirit the same way we all do now when we give the gospel, that is, precisely by giving the gospel: when the person responds in faith, the baptism of the Spirit happens automatically (as it did for Cornelius and his household). The possession of the indwelling of the Spirit is what sets believers apart from the rest of the world (Rom.8:9); it is, in fact, the most crucial and critical blessing which sets the Age of the Church apart from everything that went before, and it is precisely this gift of the Spirit which our Lord emphasized in the hours before His death (Jn.14:15-17; 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-15) and just prior to His ascension (Acts 1:4-8).

It would thus be very odd if the Mathew 28 passage were the "odd man" out, and if Jesus in giving here the mission statement for the Church Age had left out only here the baptism of the Spirit upon which everything depends (and which is everywhere else in the gospels and epistles as "the" key factor in salvation, growth, and service), and had seen fit instead to emphasize only here a ritual which from the other evidence seems at the very least to be far less important than the reality of the coming of the Spirit, prophesied and anticipated since John. It thus defies credibility (for all who know scripture, at any rate) to see the "baptism" in Matthew 28 as anything other than what it indeed truly is, namely, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. That would explain, for example, what Jesus means when He says "baptizing them into the Name [Person]" of the Trinity. Note that the Greek says "into", not simply "in" (compare what Peter says in regard to the water-baptism of Acts 2:38 "in the Name of Jesus Christ" -- not "into"). The only way a person can be brought "into" God, made one with Him, Father, Son and Spirit", is through the Spirit's ministry of baptism at salvation, whereby we are all entered into the Body of Jesus Christ.

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
1st Corinthians 12:12-13 NIV

I realize that this is not a particularly popular position, but I am completely convinced that it is the biblical one. Water-baptism has become what amounts to a "superstition" for many Christians. I offer two brief additional pieces of information to support this: 1) the fact that the topic of water baptism can hardly be mentioned without concomitant guilt, fear, and controversy, and 2) the fact that very few Christians who support it can express with any degree of confidence or conviction what water baptism is supposed to symbolize (when they have any idea at all). If water-baptism were a good thing, why would its legacy be so emotionally negative? If it were important, why can't anyone adequately explain what it is supposed to mean?

For more on this somewhat complicated topic, please see the following links:

Baptism: Water and Spirit

Baptism and Following Jesus

Is Water Baptism Required of Christians Today?

The "Baptism which now saves you".

Is Baptism required for salvation?

And for the true baptism of the Spirit as distinct from tongues, see:

The baptism of the Holy Spirit as distinct from speaking in tongues.

An Extended Conversation about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Sin, Baptism, and the Book of Revelation.

Foot-washing, Bitter Herbs, Baptism, and Borrowed Faith.

Yours in the love of Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #8:  

Hi Bob

Thanks for your prompt reply. Would it be accurate to say that even though baptism is not a requirement to be saved, nevertheless, because of Jesus' commandment in the Great Commission as stated in Matthew 28 v 18- 20, we as Christians, we need to also be baptized?

Thanks again.

Response #8: 

I understand your objection, but I don't think it raises any serious obstacles to the interpretation that the Holy Spirit is the true baptism (versus erroneous water-baptism) for three reasons. To recast your objection in other words, you are essentially saying that in your opinion Jesus would not have said "make all nations my followers by baptizing them" if He had meant "baptizing them with the Spirit" (as I suggest) because we cannot actually do that directly.

1) I would note that while you and I cannot mediate the baptism of the Spirit directly, the apostles certainly could . . . and did (on more than one occasion recorded in Acts); therefore Jesus' command could indeed have been literally carried out by the men to whom He gave this command directly. Naturally, you and I do not have this ability, but we can mediate the Holy Spirit's baptism indirectly by giving the gospel. In all cases, whether via the apostles originally or through the act of witnessing ever since, it is always God who does the real work in any case.

2) Your objection presupposes that Jesus would have or reasonably could have said this a different way if (as I argue) He was talking about the baptism of the Spirit and not water baptism.

But what would He have said? How would He have phrased this command differently if He wished to make clear that He was indeed referring to Spirit baptism rather than water baptism? The only thing that occurs to me is that He could have said "with the Spirit" just as He could have said "with water". He says neither. Therefore it is just as incorrect in my view to assume on the basis of the omission – without further evidence or argumentation – that water has been left out as it is to assume that Spirit has been left out (for the means has been left out either way, so that people are assuming either way).

Considering that we are starting with a situation that in terms of the language could thus go either way, the evidence both from what else Jesus does say and from what He doesn't say leans in the direction of Spirit rather than water baptism.

What our Lord does say:

a) He uses the Trinity as the object of the baptism (uniquely here in scripture); that makes sense for Spirit baptism (because since the Trinity are One, we cannot be "in Christ" without being "in" the whole Trinity) but it is hard to explain for water baptism since the threefold formula is never used elsewhere for water (and why wouldn't it be since this passage chronologically pre-dates all the instances of formula use for water baptism in Acts).

b) Jesus uses the Greek preposition eis rather than en (this latter being the one commonly used in the water declaration formula elsewhere). Whereas en + onoma may mean simply "[invoking] the name of", the use of eis here in Matthew 28 meaning "into" indicates an actual "movement" or transformation of some sort rather than a mere verbal formula to be pronounced while dunking. We cannot really be baptized "into" the Trinity by means of water; that requires the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit.

As to what Jesus does not say, remember that this incident occurred before Pentecost. The disciples/apostles, like king Saul before the Spirit fell upon him, clearly become "different men" following the gift of the Spirit. That means, of course, that their ability to receive the truth before Pentecost was different from what it was afterwards (as Jesus says repeatedly in John 14 -16). For Jesus to have explained in detail the baptism of the Spirit before it actually occurred would have likely been rather pointless (cf. Jn.16:12 : "you are not able to bear [these things] now"), as the disciples were at this point as yet unable to fully receive such information (and had not yet experienced the event first hand).

These words in Matthew 28 are indeed written for our benefit, but they are the actual words of Jesus to the disciples (and so reflect what He did say and what they could bear). It seems to me that what we see here is a perfect description of what would be the mission of the Church, but put in a way that the disciples could receive at that pre-Pentecost time. If you recall from my previous e-mail and from your own study of Acts, it took a good number of years for even the apostles to completely assimilate the new circumstances which Pentecost and the calling out of the Church had wrought (consider, for example, how long it took for them all to grasp the validity of association with the gentiles, and the degree to which the Law and circumcision had now been abrogated; etc.). So while it may be understandable if the disciples took this to mean "with water" at the time (though as I say there was plenty here to have them wondering about that, since "water" didn't really fit), there is no excuse for us who have the Spirit and the entire canon of scripture to make the same faulty assumption.

3) If it were true that because "we can't do it directly ourselves" that this passage must refer to water baptism, then we would also not be able to carry out our Lord's leading command here: "go and make all nations my followers". We can give the gospel, but we can't directly "make" people accept it. We can teach the truth, but we can't directly "make" our fellow Christians listen to it, or believe it, or apply it. All that must come from within the soon-to-be or already-become believer, and once again the real action, the real work emanates from the Lord. Only God can save us, and all of the things that transpire at salvation are His work. Just as we only mediate salvation by giving the gospel and only mediate spiritual growth by teaching the truth, so also we only mediate the baptism of the Spirit in the same way.

I planted you, Apollos watered you, but God made you grow.
1st Corinthians 3:6

The baptism of the Spirit is critical to the formation of the Church and absolutely fundamental to our growth and production as Christians. Water-baptism is not only unessential, but has traditionally been the cause of great disruption and division in the Church with no discernible benefit (even from the earliest days as Paul's experience in Corinth demonstrates). The presence of Spirit baptism in the so-called "Great Commission" is thus just as necessary and its absence would be difficult to fathom. Whereas the presence of water-baptism would be superfluous and out of place on the eve of the gift of the Spirit, but its absence is completely understandable.

(4) And gathering them together [Jesus] commanded [the disciples] not to depart from Jerusalem, but to await the promise of the Father (i.e., the Holy Spirit) "which you heard about from Me. (5) For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Spirit not many days from now". (6) So when they had come together (i.e., for the last time), they were asking Him, "Lord, are you about to restore the kingdom to Israel at this time?" (7) And He said to them, "It is not for you to decide the times and occasions which the Father has ordained on His own authority (i.e., the Second Advent et al. will happen on His time-table, not yours). (8) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth".
Acts 1:4-8

In the Name of the One into whom we who believed have all been baptized, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.


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