Is Baptism Really Necessary?

Godwin Delali Adadzie - Baptism


I stumbled upon an interesting commentary about Saint John’s Gospel chapter 3 in Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament by Warren W. Wiersbe while I was going through my e-Sword Bible software and I would like to respond to certain points raised by this Protestant scholar whom I am not familiar with.

“Once again, we meet with the blindness of sinners: this well-educated religious leader, Nicodemus, did not understand what the Saviour was talking about! Jesus was speaking about a spiritual birth, but Nicodemus thought only of a physical birth. The situation is no different today. When you talk with people about being born again, they often begin to discuss their family’s religious heritage, their church membership, religious ceremonies, and so on.

Being a patient teacher, our Lord picked up on Nicodemus’ words and further explained the new birth. To be “born of water” is to be born physically (“enter a second time into his mother’s womb”) but to be born again means to be born of the Spirit. Just as there are two parents for physical birth, so there are two “parents” for spiritual birth: the Spirit of God (John 3:5) and the Word of God (James 1:18; 1Peter 1:23-25). The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and, when the sinner believes, imparts the life of God.

Jesus was not teaching that the new birth comes through water baptism. In the New Testament, baptism is connected with death, not birth; and no amount of physical water can effect a spiritual change in a person. The emphasis in John 3:14-21 is on believing, because salvation comes through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). The evidence of salvation is the witness of the Spirit within (Romans 8:9), and the Spirit enters your life when you believe (Acts 10:43-48; Ephesians 1:13-14).

Water baptism is certainly a part of our obedience to Christ and our witness for Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:41). But it must not be made an essential for salvation; otherwise, none of the Old Testament saints was ever saved, nor was the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43). In every age, there has been but one way of salvation — faith in God’s promise — though the outward evidence of that faith has changed from age to age.”

Let’s read parts of John 3 that this commentary attempts to deal with.

John 3:1-6 RSV  Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  (2)  This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, \”Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.\”  (3)  Jesus answered him, \”Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.\”  (4)  Nicodemus said to him, \”How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother\’s womb and be born?\”  (5)  Jesus answered, \”Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  (6)  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Before I give my response I would like us to read what the Church says via the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Paragraph 1223 All the Old Covenant prefigurations find their fulfillment in Christ Jesus. He begins his public life after having himself baptized by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan. After his resurrection Christ gives this mission to his apostles: \”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.\”

Paragraph 1257 The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are \”reborn of water and the Spirit.\” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

Paragraph 1258 The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.

Paragraph 1259 For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.

Paragraph 1260 \”Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.\” Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

Now that we have read the Church’s official position on Baptism I would like to submit my humble response to some of the things said in Wiersbe’s commentary of John chapter 3.

He said, “Jesus was not teaching that the new birth comes through water baptism. In the New Testament, baptism is connected with death, not birth; and no amount of physical water can effect a spiritual change in a person.” To say, “no amount of physical water can effect a spiritual change in a person” is a bold claim which the New Testament does not support at all. For example Saint Peter reminds Christians that Baptism saves.

1 Peter 3:18-22 RSV  For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit;  (19)  in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison,  (20)  who formerly did not obey, when God\’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.  (21)  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  (22)  who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

What really caught my attention was this statement: “Water baptism is certainly a part of our obedience to Christ and our witness for Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:41). But it must not be made an essential for salvation; otherwise, none of the Old Testament saints was ever saved, nor was the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43).”

Wow! Who is to decide what is the essential for salvation, we or Christ and His Church? Anyway, I think Wiersbe’s assertion that if Baptism is made an essential for salvation then none of the Old Testament saints was ever saved is like saying, “See. . . the Old Testament saints are not saved because they didn’t believe that Jesus died for their sins even though Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life.” This shows the heart of what I called the Protestant Problem with the Bible. Thank you.

© 2013. Godwin Delali Adadzie. All Rights Reserved.

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6 thoughts on “Is Baptism Really Necessary?”

  1. My compliments to the author.

    While Protestant thinkers are, necessarily, defending a position whereby they must argue that the Biblical texts mean something other than what the Church has understood them to mean, right up until the time of the Protestant rebellion, there is no reason whatsoever for the Catholic to agree with the false first premise.

    Baptism, or the desire for it, is absolutely necessary for the justification of the sinner, since the promulgation of the Gospel.

    Simple as that.

    1. One can simply desire baptism? Seems contradictory to what I’ve read elsewhere.

      “No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.” (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441.)

    2. Let me set you straight on this, Andre.

      Council of Trent, Session VI, Chapter IV (De Fide definita):

      “By which words, a description of the Justification of the impious is indicated,-as being a translation, from that state wherein man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace, and of the adoption of the sons of God, through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Saviour. And this translation, since the promulgation of the Gospel, cannot be effected, without the laver of regeneration, or the desire thereof, as it is written; unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”

      Therefore, baptism, or the desire for it, is absolutely necessary since the promulgation of the Gospel for translation to the state of grace (justification).

      This joins one to the Catholic Church, as in your definition.

      One must, of course, persevere in Faith, Hope, and Charity even after justification, in order to achieve salvation.

      This perseverance certainly includes the necessity of sacramental baptism, unless one is prevented inculpably from receiving it.

      So there is no contradiction between the two definitions, in fact they are mutually coherent.

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