Muddy Waters: The “Church of Christ”

by Scott Noble

Oct 20, 2015 

As the bumper sticker says, “I wasn’t born in Iowa, but I moved there as soon as I could.” Well, I did live in Iowa for about ten years, and Boston is a long ways from Iowa. Who would have thought, a church that by many accounts is considered to be a cult, which has roots in Boston, would be operating within biking distance of our residence? Actually we live in Thailand now, but the International Church of Christ, which didn’t start, but blossomed in Boston in the nineteen eighties to nineties, and has older roots going back to the nineteenth century (Alexander Campbell and associates roots), has even more influence here in Thailand than I’ve seen in Iowa (though maybe I just didn’t see that influence there). I can think of at least five spheres of influence here in our city which are spreading the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration– the belief that a person is not born again until they are baptized. In that belief salvation is water dependent, in contrast to the biblical doctrine that our sins are washed away by our Lord Jesus Christ’s precious blood (Revelation 1:5). 


Having a name like “The International Church of Christ,” sounds orthodox enough, right? But, behind that name is a historical and current stance that involves “muddy waters,” as Methodist circuit preacher Peter Cartwright put it. Is a repentant person who has put their faith in Jesus Christ not even born again, unless they are baptized? This false doctrine is central to the so called Churches of Christ (offshoots of which include the “Christian Churches” and the “Disciples of Christ”), but it is also a doctrine which is propagated by United Pentecostals (a.k.a. “Oneness Pentecostals,” who deny the trinity), Roman Catholicism, and other groups. Before we talk about this error of baptismal regeneration though, I’d like to give another more indigenous example in Thailand which twists the meaning of baptism. 

Buddhist Baptismal Syncretism

Ubolwan Mejudhon, co-pastor with her husband Nantachai of the Muangthai Church in Bangkok, Thailand, has written of a very syncretistic way of understanding Christian baptism in the Buddhist Thai culture: “The first step is the formal act of confession, in which the new converts who bring shame to their immediate families and relatives ask for forgiveness and bow down at the feet of their parents.”

The following quote represents the expectations of the parents, but will be contradicted later in Ubolwan’s paper: “The bonding will go deepest if the new converts are sensitive to the pain of the parents because, from their viewpoint, the baptismal service signifies a complete separation from Buddhism and a full identification with Christianity.”

Here is the actual understanding the parents are supposed to have of baptism, according to Ubolwan, viewing it through Buddhist goggles: “They should be led to understand the ritual not as a departure from Buddhism but as a fulfillment of Buddhist self-emptying. The baptismal service should symbolize the perfect bonding to the concept of self-emptying in Buddhism through Christ. The families should be invited officially to attend the ritual…. This Christian ritual of reconciliation, Kama and Ahosikarma, fits the Thai’s concept of time and hierarchy…” (

In explaining baptism “not as a departure from Buddhism,” the true meaning of baptism has been washed away, leaving a watery ritual behind.

Campbellism in Modern Day Form

With that prelude in mind, we will now look at another way that baptism is robbed of its true meaning– making H20 into the gateway to heaven. Decades long member and internationally sought after Church of Christ speaker, John Oakes, and part of the San Diego Church of Christ, says, “The way I think of it, baptism is not HOW we are saved. We are saved by our faith and by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Baptism is WHEN we are saved. It is at this point in time when we are actually forgiven of our sins and when we receive the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit…. Faith on our part is the key, but baptism is the point at which the salvation is actually received. So, the answer is yes, it is required if one takes the Scriptures as the standard of truth.” (http://evidence -one-of-the-requirements-for-salvationr/)

Here are some quotes further explaining John Oakes’ views in the audio message “Baptism in Christ I,” with a few of my comments also: Based on the wedding invitation parable of Matthew 22:1-14, and the man without the wedding garments, who was damned, John Oakes says that represents a person who believes, but is not baptized. Oakes would say most people in America are in that category: “And there’s a lot of people like that; a lot of people like that– in fact, I’d say most people in America…. who is this man– the man at the banquet? He’s most of the people you know…. who is this guy? He’s practically everybody you meet.”

Those Christians who would like to be ecumenical and include the “Church of Christ” as an evangelical denomination, don’t realize that they don’t include us as their brothers and sisters. The “Church of Christ” also denies original sin: “Where do you find the doctrine of original sin in the Bible? The answer is– nowhere in the Bible.” 

“For the first 1900 years [of church history] there was not a shred of evidence that anybody taught you’re saved by saying a prayer…. This was not taught by any church of any flavor until the mid-nineteenth century…. The most common teaching about baptism in America, which is that it’s an outward sign of an inward grace that happens whenever you want– doesn’t really matter, because you prayed Jesus into your heart– that doctrine literally was not taught by any church…” Later in this paper I will show a few examples from history which show otherwise.

“The Scripture is clear. Baptism is WHEN you’re saved. So what if you weren’t baptized? Then you weren’t saved…. no one is saved unless they’re baptized. That is a fact.” (

More quotes from John Oakes from the audio message “Baptism in Christ II”: “How does one get into Christ? The answer is baptism.” Claiming that every single church father believed in baptismal regeneration, Oakes gave some examples, including Irenaeus. Following the quote, Oakes commented, “In other words what he’s [Irenaeus of Lyon] saying is– almost everybody who claims to be a Christian in America today has ‘renounced the whole thing.'” The Church of Christ is very elitist indeed! They would not even include Baptists who practice believer’s baptism. Their elitism has recently splintered even further as the Church of Christ itself has split and in fact has already had several splits.

“The problem is that’s not what the Bible teaches, and the bottom line is– until you’re baptized, you’re lost.” “Does that mean that the thief on the cross was saved? No. He was not saved. Will he be in heaven? I have no idea.” “But the question is– when is a person saved? When they’re born again. When are they born again? When they’re baptized.” ( conversion-part-ii/)

Is Baptism a Work?

John Oakes doesn’t think that baptism is a “work,” because baptism is something passive that is done to us, rather than something that we actively do. This is clever semantics, but is not accurate. In the book of Galatians Paul refers to circumcision as something passive, not active, yet Paul denounces this attempt at works salvation by the Galatians and gives a very clear statement of how we are saved: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16) 

The Devil’s Algebra

As Jacob Prasch puts it, the devil’s algebra is to get people to add to the blood of Jesus something to the requirements for salvation. Instead of faith in the blood of Jesus for salvation, it becomes faith in the blood of Jesus PLUS faith in ________. Although the Church of Christ may affirm that we are saved by faith, not by works, yet in practice, they put their faith in their baptism. John Oakes points this out: “The fancy word for this doctrine is baptismal cognizance. Does a person who has truly believed, made Jesus Lord and repented need to have a full and complete intellectual understanding of the significance of baptism at the time of his/her baptism in order for it to “work”? Is it possible for a person to be baptized out of obedience, but be unaware that it is the actual point in time of salvation/ forgiveness of sins/receiving the Holy Spirit, and still to be saved? My answer is that I am not absolutely sure. However, I would lean in the direction of assuming if that a person, in good faith, did all that is required for salvation, but is not fully aware of every doctrinal aspect of the process, he or she is still saved. Just so you know, in the Church of Christ, which is the historical root of the church with which I fellowship, this has not been the common teaching. The common teaching within the churches of Christ is that “cognizance” is required for salvation. In other words, if a person is baptized after belief, confession and repentance, but is not mentally cognizant that this is the actual point of salvation, then that person is still lost and will go to hell, unless he or she is ‘rebaptized.’… For me, I definitely would not even consider baptizing anyone who was not taught this correctly (that it is the point in time of salvation). I also would not admit to fellowship in the church (if it were up to me) anyone who is not willing to accept that baptism is when (not necessarily how) we are saved.” (http://evidencefor -that-the-purpose-of-baptism-is-participation-in-the-death-burial-and-resurrection-of-jesus-required-for-salvation/)

 Although Oakes seems to have a more generous stance than that of his church, yet contradicting this in his audio message he repeatedly makes statements of “most people in America” and “almost everybody who claims to be a Christian in America,” who in his view are not saved and do not have the proper “wedding garments” spoken of in Matthew 22. Putting one’s faith in one’s baptism is another gospel, just as putting one’s faith in one’s circumcision was for the Galatians.

Refuting Baptismal Regeneration MP3

By the way, here is a good MP3 by Emanuel Esh refuting the error of baptismal regeneration: (

Looking to the Church Fathers

John Oake’s claim that the teaching of baptism being “an outward sign of an inward grace” was not taught by any church until the mid-nineteenth century, is off by more than a millennium. In AD 792 Albinus taught what is the usual belief in evangelical churches today: “But Albinus here declares that as he was created by the Word, even so he is recreated and regenerated by the Word. He says nothing at all about the water; not to depreciate the outward administration of water baptism, but to show that recreation or regeneration does not lie in it; for, that the same must be effected by the Word, whereupon the administration of water baptism follows, as a sign of it, seems to be the burden of his whole argument.” (Van Braght, 225)

Similar to John Oakes, in taking as his premise that the church fathers were closest to the apostles and therefore most accurate in their doctrines, David Bercot, lauds the beliefs of the church fathers, even to the point of sanctioning baptismal regeneration. Bercot claims that the early Christians associated the remission of sins, rebirth, and illumination with baptism (Bercot, 78-80). If these items are tied to baptism that means, to take just one of these items as an example, a person would not yet be reborn (born-again) unless they were baptized. Also, it would mean a person is not yet forgiven of their sins until they are baptized. Bercot interprets “born of water” in John 3:5, like the Roman Catholic Church, as pertaining to water baptism, meaning that this is a requirement to enter the kingdom of God and to be born-again (Bercot, 77). At the end of Bercot’s chapter on baptism, he advocates associating one’s spiritual rebirth with the day of one’s baptism (Bercot, 82)– again complimenting the position of baptismal regeneration. It is no wonder that there are highly positive reviews of Bercot’s book by “Church of Christ” proponents. In my own case, I was born again in November of 1988, but not baptized until February of 1989. According to Bercot’s recommendation I was not spiritually reborn until February, which is false, not to mention unbiblical as well.

 Ironically, in David Bercot’s book, “Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?” he actually gives favorable mention to at least three obvious heretics: Origen, Barton W. Stone (who denied the trinity), and Alexander Campbell (more on Campbell later).

Augustine, whom Bercot does denounce as a heretic (rightly so), like Bercot supported the doctrine of baptismal regeneration: “But the sacrament of baptism is undoubtedly the sacrament of regeneration…. Even an infant, therefore, must be imbued with the sacrament of regeneration, lest without it his would be an unhappy exit out of this life; and this baptism is not administered except for the remission of sins.” (On Forgiveness of Sin, and Baptism, 43:27) ( 02/st-augustines-teaching-on-baptismal.html)

Catholic “Grace”

Bercot says, “I was surprised to find that the early Christians used the term ‘grace’ to refer to a specific act such as baptism…. I realize now that the Catholic use of the term may be more akin to the way the New Testament Christians understood the word.” (Bercot, 78-79) Bercot gives credence to the Roman Catholic Church’s erroneous definition of “grace,” which actually undermines true grace. A Catholic website states: “Through the sacrament of penance, through your reconciliation to God, you receive sanctifying grace.” (

The Council of Trent (1545-1563), in Canon 32 states: “If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit an increase of grace, eternal life, and in case he dies in grace, the attainment of eternal life itself and also an increase of glory, LET HIM BE

ANATHEMA.” (Sohmer, 10-11)

Former Roman Catholic James McCarthy in his book, “Conversations with Catholics,” wrote: “Furthermore, what the Catholic Church calls grace is not grace at all. Roman Catholic grace is something that affixes to the soul. Catholics obtain it initially through baptism. It increases through reception of the Eucharist and other sacraments. Additional Catholic grace can be earned by performing good works.'” (Sohmer, 17)

From the Vatican’s own website, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in “double speak” fashion, God is given credit for initial conversion, but the person must receive this “grace” and “justification” through the sacrament of baptism, and through one’s charity can be “meritorious” before God and further “merit” “grace” for eternal life: [2020] “Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism.” [2026-27] “…Charity is the principal source of merit in us before God…. No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods.” ( archive/ENG0015/__P72.HTM) 

Bercot encourages the falsely called Churches of Christ in their error and espouses a mode of baptism that is sacramental to its core (his baptismal regeneration stance also compliments the trinity denying United Pentecostal Churches and the Roman Catholic Church). Attaching baptism to the salvation process is adding to the gospel of Jesus Christ, just as adding circumcision to the gospel was (which Paul addressed in the book of Galatians). This misdirects people’s faith away from Jesus’ blood, and towards water– it is “another” gospel (II Corinthians 11:4).  

Analyzing the Church Fathers

Former Roman Catholic Timothy F. Kauffman on his blog has written an analysis of the church fathers regarding baptism and came to this conclusion: “What we find in this four-week comprehensive analysis of the first four centuries is that the Fathers believed that baptism was necessary because Christ commanded it, but that regeneration was by the ministry of the preached Word (Romans 10:17) and the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:14), independent of, and antecedent to, the application the water.” (

The writing style of many of the church fathers is very metaphorical so that a person if not careful, could easily take them out of context. Many of the quotations which are taken as “proof texts” of baptismal regeneration, actually are not, when seen in their proper context. For example, Justin Martyr uses the term “laver” and “water of life”– here he is not referring to baptism, but to Christ and His blood. Justin Martyr wrote, “‘For Isaiah did not send you to a bath, there to wash away murder and other sins, which not even all the water of the sea were sufficient to purge; but, as might have been expected, this was that saving bath of the olden time which followed those who repented, and who no longer were purified by the blood of goats and of sheep, or by the ashes of an heifer, or by the offerings of fine flour, but by faith through the blood of Christ, and through His death, who died for this very reason, as Isaiah himself said, when he spoke thus:’ (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 13)” (http://www.white

We go by the Bible– not by church fathers, which are the “tradition of men.” The apostle Paul said, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” (Acts 20:29) This should be a warning to us not to buy wholesale into the teachers who followed Paul and the other apostles, but to be Bereans, checking “whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11) Also, if a person two thousand years from now were to look at which books today are popular (it is probably the popular ones that would survive into the future) and which church leaders have a large following, and then based on this try to determine correct doctrine, they would end up with Joyce Meyers, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and other false teachers as their barometer for truth. The writings of the church fathers which have survived until today are not necessarily inspired. Certainly we can learn from history, but we need to begin with the Bible.

How Are Sins Remitted?

“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38)

Connecting remission of sins to baptism, this verse is taken by some as a proof of baptismal regeneration. However, remission of sins should be seen as relating to the word “repent,” as is seen in many other verses in the New Testament. Later in Acts chapter 10 for example, Peter said remission of sins comes by believing: “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10:43) 

Baptist scholar Archibald T. Robertson (AD 1863-1934), based on the use of the Greek word “eis,” in Acts 2:38, which in English is the word “for” in “for the remission of sins,” says that “eis” can also be translated as “at” or “because of” as in Matthew 12:41: “they repented at [“eis”– “because of”] the preaching of Jonas.” In other words, Acts 2:38 could be translated as “because of the remission of sins”– meaning that they were to repent and have their sins remitted– and because of that, then be baptized.

Robertson says, “My view is decidedly against the idea that Peter, Paul, or any one in the New Testament taught baptism as essential to the remission of sins or the means of securing such remission. So I understand Peter to be urging baptism on each of them who had already turned (repented) and for it to be done in the name of Jesus Christ on the basis of the forgiveness of sins which they had already received.” (Robertson, 21-22) 

Jesus connected remission of sins to repentance, also– without referring to baptism: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47)

Jesus also said that it is through His blood that remission of sins is received, again not mentioning baptism: “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)

Paul connects faith in Jesus’ blood with the remission of sins: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” (Romans 3:25)

The Book of Galatians: Putting On Christ

“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) This verse is taken as a “proof text” for baptismal regeneration, but in the previous verse Paul clearly states that the way to become a child of God is by faith: “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26) Being baptized into Christ is the baptism which the Holy Spirit performs (I Corinthians 12:13). Baptism is only mentioned once in the book of Galatians (Galatians 3:27), which is Spirit baptism, not water baptism.

In the book of Galatians, Paul makes it plain that we receive the Holy Spirit by faith, not by water baptism: “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3) “…that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (3:14)

Paul furthermore says that whoever is depending on the law of circumcision is fallen from grace: “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” (Galatians 5:2-5)

Adding the requirement of circumcision to the gospel, is what Paul calls “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6) and says that those who preach “any other gospel” are “accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

Paul also mentions putting on Christ in Romans, without referring to baptism. The book of Romans was written to Christians who already would have been baptized, but still they are exhorted to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. This cannot then be referring to putting Him on by baptism: “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (Romans 13:14)

Other Baptisms

The same Greek word that is translated as “baptized” in Galatians 3:27 elsewhere is translated as “washed”: “And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner.” (Luke 11:38; also see Mark 7:4)

Baptism is not always referring to water. In the following verse Jesus is speaking figuratively about what He is about to go through– at a time long after He had been water baptized by John the Baptist: “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50)

Also after his water baptism, referring to a baptism that was not by water, but figuratively referring to his crucifixion, said, “…Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized.” (Mark 10:38-39)

Baptism by the Holy Spirit

John the Baptist said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Ghost: “And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” (John 1:33)

At the end of the book of John the disciples received the Holy Ghost, but were not yet baptized, since in Acts 1:5 this is still spoken of as a future event: “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” (John 20:22) “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” (Acts 1:5)

In the Bible Study “The Ministries of the Holy Spirit,” Arnold Fruchtenbaum, says, “Spirit baptism is misunderstood because people do not realize that it is a unique ministry of the Holy Spirit for this age only and for the Church only. It is not a ministry which the Spirit ever performed in the Old Testament. He did regenerate all

believers and did indwell some believers, but He never baptized anyone in the Old Testament…. A second reason for the confusion today concerning Spirit baptism is an over-emphasis on water baptism. Because of this over-emphasis, passages which speak of Spirit baptism; such as Romans 6:1-4, have been misapplied to water baptism…. The fifth reason for this confusion is that people often do not understand the relationship between the Spirit’s work of baptism as compared to His work of filling. There is a difference between being filled with the Spirit and being baptized with the Spirit. Spirit baptism is a work of the Spirit in relationship to salvation. Spirit filling is a work of the Spirit in relation to spiritual growth.” (Fruchtenbaum, 17)

“Another truth concerning Spirit baptism is that it is universal among all believers. Not merely some are baptized by the Spirit, but as of Acts 2 every believer is baptized by the Holy Spirit. This truth is spelled out in I Corinthians 12:13: For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit. The clear teaching of this passage is that every believer, without exception, is baptized by the Spirit…. As to when one is baptized by the Spirit, that person is baptized by the Spirit at the moment when he believes. At the point of salvation, the believer is baptized by the Spirit. The New Testament clearly emphasizes that every believer, at the moment he believes, becomes part of the Body of the Messiah (Eph. 2:11-22). I Corinthians 12:13 states that every believer became a part of the Body of the Messiah because he was baptized by the Holy Spirit.” (Fruchtenbaum, 20)

John Bunyan (AD 1628-1688), author of Pilgrim’s Progress, in commenting on I Corinthians 12:13, says, “Here is the church presented as under the notion of ‘one body’; here is a baptism mentioned, by which they are brought, or initiated into this body: Now that this is the baptism of water, is utterly against the words of the text; ‘For by one spirit are we all baptized into one body.’ Besides, if the baptism here be of water, then is it the initiating ordinance; but the contrary I have proved.” (Bunyan, 10)

Born Of Water And Of The Spirit: John 3:5

The Roman Catholic Church, like the “Churches of Christ,” teaches that baptism is necessary in order to be born-again: “Baptism, the gate to the sacraments, necessary for salvation, by which men and women are freed from their sins, are reborn [born-again] as children of God and, configured to Christ by an indelible character, are incorporated in the Church, is validly conferred only by washing with true water together with the required form of words. (New Code of the Roman Catholic Canon Law, 1983).” (Pezzotta, 45)

 Former Catholic priest from Italy, Anthony Pezzotta, says there are basically four common interpretations of John 3:5– where Jesus said that we must be born of water and of the Spirit. One of those is the belief that “water” means baptism, as the Catholics and those in the “Churches of Christ” would say. This does not fit the context though, where Jesus did not mention baptism at all in his conversation with Nicodemus.

That would also contradict other Scriptures, such as the following, also written by John: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.” (I John 5:1) In the book of First John, the words “baptism,” “baptized,” etc. are not mentioned at all.

Furthermore, in saying that a person must be born again, if water does not mean the physical birth, then there would be three births here: the physical birth, born of water, and born of the Spirit. But, Jesus told Nicodemus people must be born again, not that they needed to be born again AND AGAIN.

Two of the other interpretations involve water being symbolic of our spiritual cleansing, and the Word of God being the agent of cleansing. These interpretations are based on Ezekiel 36:25-27 and I Peter 1:23. I think there is room for these interpretations in Scripture, but personally I favor the interpretation that says “born of water” represents the physical birth.

Nicodemus’ initial response shows that he was thinking in those terms: “can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb” (John 3:4), and Jesus’ further explanation contrasts water and Spirit, and then flesh and Spirit in Hebrew poetic style, using “water” and “flesh” as a poetic equivalent: 

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6)

In Hebrew poetry often the same ideas are repeated using different, but similar words in the next line (e.g. Psalm 24:1-2; 120:2; Proverbs 17:25; Isaiah 53:5; just to list a few). In John 3:12 Jesus also contrasts the “earthly” things he spoke of with the “heavenly,” which fits with the earthly birth and the heavenly birth interpretation.

Pezzotta says, “The unborn child in the mother’s womb literally lives in water. The rupture of the water sac is a sign of physical birth. In parts of Greece and southern Italy today, people will idiomatically refer to a woman about to give birth as one who is ‘losing water.'” (Pezzotta, 48)

Referring to John 3:5, Arnold Fruchtenbaum likewise says, “This passage speaks of being born of water, not baptism. If it were, Jesus would have used the word for baptism. Being born of water was a Jewish expression meaning ‘physical birth.’ ‘Mere physical birth as a Jew,’ He tells Nicodemus, ‘is not sufficient to enter the Kingdom.'” (Fruchtenbaum, 17)

The Bible clearly says we are born of God by believing, not by sacramental participation: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Being born again and the spiritual birth are mentioned by Jesus five times in chapter 3 of John (verses 3,5,6,7, and 8), but only one time is water mentioned. If water as in baptism were meant, then surely it too would be repeated to show its importance. Instead what we have are verses like this which emphasize the spiritual birth without alluding at all to baptism: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

Peter’s statement that we are born again by the word of God also fits with this since the Holy Spirit uses the word of God in a person’s conversion. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” (I Peter 1:23)

Claiming to be born of water (spiritually born by material water), is really to be born of the flesh, going after material rituals, rather than looking to God by faith: “But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.” (Galatians 4:29)

Did Paul Preach Baptismal Regeneration?

“And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16)

In the above verse, Ananias, speaking to Paul urged him to be baptized. Some people take this verse to mean that baptism washes away sins. But, the phrase “wash away sins” in light of the rest of the Bible is more accurately connected to the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord.”

In the book of I Corinthians, Paul said, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” (I Corinthians 1:17) Here Paul puts “preaching the gospel” in contrast with baptizing, saying explicitly that “Christ sent me not to baptize.”

If baptism were the time at which a person is born-again, then it would be the height of carelessness on Paul’s part to say that “Christ sent me not to baptize.” It would be a gospel without regeneration that he preached, if indeed regeneration depends upon water baptism.

Paul did baptize a few people, for indeed baptism is a command of Jesus Christ, but Paul’s emphasis to the Corinthians was that God saves them that believe: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (I Corinthians 1:21)

Paul said that he baptized Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanus, but compellingly states that “Christ sent me not to baptize.” By contrast, Paul speaking to the entire church of the Corinthians says, “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” (I Corinthians 4:15) How could he have begotten the ENTIRE church of the Corinthians through the gospel if the gospel MUST include baptism, and he only baptized three named people, including the household of one of those named? Baptism is indeed a commandment of Jesus to be taken seriously, but it is not the means to be begotten (born-again).    

The Philippian Jailor and Cornelius

When asked by the Philippian jailor, “what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30), Paul and Silas answered him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved…” Two verse later he was baptized, but this was not included in the answer to his question. In answer to his question he was told to BELIEVE.

On Cornelius’ household the gift of the Holy Ghost was “poured out” before they were water baptized (Acts 10:45). An unregenerate or non-born-again person cannot receive this gift from God. This expression of the Holy Ghost being “poured” out is also used in Acts 2:17-18, again using “water language” in referring to the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

In the book of John, Jesus also said that the Holy Ghost is given to them that believe, “(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)” (John 7:39)

Paul also says that the Holy Spirit is given through faith: “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:14)

Saved By Circumcision?

Maybe we could call these men “circumcisional regenerationists” (this despite the fact that Abraham was declared righteous before his circumcision) who thought circumcision necessary for salvation: “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)

Those who looked to circumcision had a focus that was on the outward and fleshly rather than on the inward and spiritual: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Romans 2:28-29)

Regarding the “circumcisional regenerationists”, “…Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them…” (Acts 15:2) 

“Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” (Acts 15:10-11)

Abraham: Justification by Faith

God’s mode of justifying people has not changed. Even in the Old Testament people needed to be justified by faith, not by the deeds of the law. Abraham was justified even before receiving circumcision: “Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.” (Romans 4:9-10)

“And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:8-11)

There are plenty of verses that make it clear we are not saved by works. Here are just two examples: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16) 

“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28) Of course good deeds do follow, but these are not our means towards justification. 

Prototypes of Baptism

The word “tupos” (type) appears 16 times in the Greek New Testament, and is the word from which we get our English words “typology” or “typified.” A type is an “imprint” which was stamped by an original. From this “imprint” we see the outline of what the original should look like. In the King James Version the word “tupos” is variously translated as “print,” “figures,” “fashion,” “manner,” “form,” “examples,” and “pattern.” The New Testament also uses the word “shadow” to refer to the Old Testament foreshadowing which points to the New Testament fulfillments of these (Colossians 2:17, Hebrews 8:5; 10:1). Bible expositor Jacob Prasch writes, “It remains our repeated argument that doctrine cannot be based on biblical or historical type, but that types illustrate doctrines and reveal patterns of how God has worked in the past which indicate to His people how He will work in the future.” (Prasch, 23)

There are at least three explicit verses in the New Testament which speak about baptism being typified, foreshadowed, or prefigured in the Old Testament, and there are also some implicit examples we can look at from the Old Testament:

  1. Passing through the Red Sea

Baptism is prefigured via Moses and the children of Israel: “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” (I Corinthians 10:1-2)

Before passing through the sea, the children of Israel put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts on the very first Passover day in history (Exodus 12). It was those households which had the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, which death did not touch. Typologically that blood foreshadowed our Lord Jesus Christ’s blood, by which we are washed of our sins (Revelation 1:5). Paul also said plainly that, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” (I Corinthians 5:7)  

In this Old Testament figure we see that just as the children of Israel applied the blood to their doorposts before passing through the sea, so also the blood of Jesus washes us of our sins BEFORE baptism. 

Commentator John Gill (AD 1697-1771) says, “…and were partakers of things which bore some resemblance to Gospel ordinances; as their passing under the cloud through the sea was a figure of baptism, and their eating manna, and drinking water out of the rock, which was a type of Christ, had some likeness to the ordinance of the Lord’s supper, of eating his flesh, and drinking his blood, which are meat and drink indeed in a spiritual sense, 1Co_10:1…” (Gill)

John the Baptist would baptize with water and Jesus would baptize with fire. In some of the Old Testament types of baptism we also see fire– in this case the pillar of fire. When Israel marched through the Red Sea, the pillar of fire was there. During the “morning watch” both the pillar of fire and the cloud are spoken of as this was the time when the night time pillar changed to be the day time cloud: “And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 14:24)

Also we see that the children of Israel had already passed through the Red Sea when “the morning appeared” and thus they would have had the pillar of fire guiding them when they were passing through during the night: “And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.” (Exodus 14:27)

Also, in I Corinthians 10:2, the cloud and the sea are mentioned as the baptism. The cloud by day and pillar of fire by night was the physical representation of God’s presence, which was God’s Holy Spirit. The children of Israel were blessed with this gift of the Holy Spirit before (Exodus 13:20-22) their “water baptism” (the Red Sea), just as Cornelius and his household were blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit before their water baptism (Acts 10), showing again typologically that regeneration is not tied to water baptism.  

The blood of Jesus Christ: Just as the children of Israel applied the blood of the lamb (the shadow) to be saved from death, so the blood of Jesus Christ (the substance behind the shadow) is effective and sufficient for the remission of sins; for the purchase of His church; as a propitiation; for our justification, salvation, and redemption; for the forgiveness of sins; to bring us close to God; for making peace and reconciliation for us; to obtain eternal redemption; to purge our conscience from dead works to serve the living God; giving us boldness to enter into the holiest; to sanctify us; to make an everlasting covenant; to cleanse us from all sin; to wash us of our sins; and to wash and make our robes white:  

“For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)

“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)

“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” (Romans 3:25)

“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” (Romans 5:9)

“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” (Ephesians 1:7) 

“But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)

“In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:14)

“And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” (Colossians 1:20)

 “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” (Hebrews 9:12)

 “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14)

“And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:22)

“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” (Hebrews 10:19) 

“Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.” (Hebrews 13:12)

“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” (Hebrews 13:20)

“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (I Peter 1:18-19)

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (I John 1:7)

“And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” (Revelation 1:5)

“And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)

The blood of the lamb at the Passover feast typifies the blood of the Lamb of God. The Israelites who believed God’s Word and who applied this blood to their doorposts and stayed in their houses, were spared from death. Instead of one of their firstborn having to die, the lamb died instead. God sent His own “firstborn” or only begotten Son to die in our stead, so that if we believe in Him all of the benefits of His blood are given to us, and we are passed from death to life. 

  1. Priests and Temple Washings

“Washings” in the following verse, in the Greek is the word “baptismos,” speaking of the temple and tabernacle ceremonies: “Which was a figure [“parabole”] for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings [“baptismos”], and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.” (Hebrews 9:9-10) 

Regarding Hebrews 9:10, John Gill wrote, “…these were the washings of the priests and of the Israelites, and of sacrifices, and of garments, and of vessels and other things; and which, because they were performed by immersion, they are called ‘baptisms’: and now since these only sanctified to the purifying of the flesh, or what was outward, they could not reach the conscience…. these were only imposed on them until the time of reformation…. things that were faulty and deficient are amended and perfected, and in which burdensome rites and ceremonies are removed, and better ordinances introduced: or rather of direction: in which saints are directed to Christ, the sum and substance of all types, shadows, and sacrifices, and in whom alone perfection is.” (Gill)

Arnold Fruchtenbaum in his Bible study “The Ordinance of Baptism” in referring to Hebrews 9:10, says, “The washings of Old Testament law required the instruments used for the Temple to be immersed into water. The utensils were not cleansed by sprinkling water on them; anyone who washes utensils would not consider them

clean by simply sprinkling water on them. Quite the contrary, the instruments were washed by dipping them or immersing them in water. Furthermore, it might be pointed out that throughout the rituals of the Old Testament Law, it was blood that was sprinkled, not water.” (Fruchtenbaum, 9) 

An initial washing was performed upon entrance to the office of a priest: “And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water.” (Exodus 29:4)

In chapter 24, verses 7 to 8 of Exodus, before the washing ceremony of the priests took place (typifying baptism), we see the reading of God’s Word and the application of the blood of the covenant, typifying Jesus’ saving blood (applied before baptism typologically): “And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words.”  

Gill further explains, “…the Targum of Jonathan says, this washing was performed in forty seahs of living or spring water, which was sufficient for the immersion of the whole body, which it is highly probable was the case; and so Jarchi interprets it of the dipping of the whole body, and which seems to have been necessary, upon their entrance on their office, to denote their complete purity and holiness, though afterwards, when they entered on service, they only washed their hands and feet, see Exo_30:18 to which our Lord seems to allude, Joh_13:10…” (Gill)

The initial washing typifies baptism, whereas the hand and foot washing was a daily activity signifying continually walking in holiness: “Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein. For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat.” (Exodus 30:18-19)

The figurative baptism of death/crucifixion which Jesus had told his disciples about in Luke 12:50 and Mark 10:38-39 is alluded to by Paul in Romans, not referring to water baptism, but to the baptism of death: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)

Every believer is baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13). It is at that time that “so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death” (Romans 6:3). The water baptism which comes after that is an outward representation of that. Just as the priests had an initial complete washing (which took place after the blood of the covenant was applied to them– Exodus 24:7-8), which was followed by daily hand and foot washings, even so our initial water baptism, (which represents our death that took place before water baptism by the Holy Spirit baptizing us into Christ), is followed by dying daily.

This dying daily, is not a means towards regeneration, but is part of our obedience: “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” (I Corinthians 15:31) “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) Our water baptism represents that dying graphically, but it is not an act which brings salvation.

Also referring figuratively to a baptism of death (not water baptism), Paul wrote to the Colossians the following: “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12)

If water baptism were a means towards SALVATION, why did the SAVIOR Himself not baptize? Speaking of water baptism, Jesus did not baptize: “(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)” (John 4:2)

In the temple, there was also fire on the altar, typifying the Holy Spirit: “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.” (Leviticus 6:13)

  1. The Flood Waters of Noah’s Day

The word “figure” in the following verse is “antitupon” in the Greek (anti-type):

“Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 3:21)

The word “antitupon” only appears twice in the New Testament– in I Peter 3:21, and also in Hebrews 9:24. In Hebrews 9:24 the English word “figures” in the Greek is the word “antitupon”: “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” (Hebrews 9:24)

Referring to I Peter 3:21, commentator Adam Clarke says, “…the relative ᾡ being in the neuter gender, its antecedent cannot be κιβωτος, the ark, which is feminine, but ὑδωρ, water, which is neuter.” (Clarke) So, based on the Greek grammar it must be water which “saves,” not the ark. 

Greek scholar Archibald Robertson further explains, “Water in baptism now as an anti-type of Noah’s deliverance by water…. So here baptism is presented as corresponding to (prefigured by) the deliverance of Noah’s family by water…. The saving by baptism which Peter here mentions is only symbolic (a metaphor or picture as in Rom_6:2-6), not actual as Peter hastens to explain…. Peter here expressly denies baptismal remission of sin…” (Robertson)

Arnold Fruchtenbaum elaborates regarding what Peter said about the conscience: “This verse is speaking of a cleansing of the conscience, not salvation. These were Jewish believers who had not undergone the obedience of water baptism, and were operating under a bad conscience, because they were disobeying the Lord. The writer is telling them that they need to have that bad conscience cleansed. The conscience is always cleansed the same way: by obeying the Lord in whatever area one is disobedient. In this case, they were in disobedience as to the command of baptism. While baptism is a symbol and a sign of cleansing, it is never the means of cleansing. Baptism is only necessary for discipleship and obedience, not for salvation.” (Fruchtenbaum, 18)

Just as “anti-Christ” can mean instead of Christ (a usurper or one who unlawfully takes the place that Christ deserves), so also the word “antitype” can mean instead of or “in place of” the “master copy” or original model/type. In Moses’ case he made a tabernacle with hands which stood “in place of” the “true.” In this sense the verse in I Peter 3:21 can be taken to mean that the “water” in Noah’s day stood “in place of” the “true” which is baptism. In this type, the water which “saved” did so in a physical sense, not that Noah’s entire family was necessarily right with God in a spiritual sense– especially not through water.

The water was a “shadow” of which baptism is the fulfillment. In a similar way the manna which the children ate and the water they drank from the Rock (which stands for Christ) are a shadow of the ordinance of communion. “And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” (I Corinthians 10:3-4)

But, in another sense although baptism and communion are the fulfillments of Old Testament shadows, yet they themselves are shadows of an even greater reality.

Regarding communion, Jesus said explicitly that it is not the flesh (or the material elements) which profits us, but it is the Holy Spirit who quickens (gives life). As communion stands for a greater reality, so does baptism: “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:33)

In I Peter 3:21, Peter tells us that he is speaking typologically. We should not therefore turn this figure of speech into a statement of doctrine which contradicts other plain statements regarding salvation, but rather we understand this typology in light of hundreds of other clear doctrinal statements regarding salvation.

Typologically speaking the earth experienced a “baptism” of water in the days of Noah, and at the end of the world will experience a “baptism” of fire: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?” (II Peter 3:10-12)

Jacob Prasch points out this parallel also: “The end of all flesh in Genesis 6:13 by water directly relates to the end of all flesh by inferno eschatologically according to Peter.” (Prasch, 68) Those who were saved out of the water were those who obeyed God and got into the ark. In our age it is those who put their faith in Jesus Christ (who is the ark of the covenant typologically) who will be saved from the wrath of God.

This word “ark” in Hebrew is “tebah,” which is only found in only two narratives of the Bible– in Genesis 6-9 regarding the global flood and also in Exodus 2, regarding the “ark” put into the river, in which Moses was saved from Pharaoh’s slaughter of the babies. In Greek the word “ark” is “kibotos,” which occurs six times in the New Testament– 4 times referring to Noah’s ark, once referring to the ark of the covenant (Hebrews 9:4), and once referring to the ark of His testament (Revelation 11:19). In New Testament times we are saved by the ark of the covenant, which typologically is Jesus. In Romans 3:25, Jesus is called a “propitiation” which is the same Greek word “hilasterion” that is used for “mercy seat” (part of the ark) in Hebrews 9:5.

On God’s part salvation is brought about by the entire trinity: The Father sent His Son to save (John 3:17); we are saved by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Peter 3:21), by Jesus’ blood (Romans 5:9), by the grace of Jesus Christ (Acts 15:11), by the Word of God (I Peter 1:23); and by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), which is also the baptism of the Holy Spirit (John 1:33; I Corinthians 12:13).

As Fruchtenbaum pointed out already, the cleansing spoken of in I Peter 3:21 can be seen as cleansing the conscience. Peter had already said the salvation he spoke of was “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh.” If it is not the putting away the filth or sins of the flesh, then we’re not talking about being washed of our sins.

For salvation from our sins we need Christ’s death on the cross, which is spoken of three verses previous to our verse in question: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” (I Peter 3:18)

Before any water appeared on the scene (representing water baptism), Noah and his family had already been in the ark for seven days (Genesis 7:1-10). The ark represents Jesus typologically. The children of Israel were saved from death by the Passover lamb’s blood. Although they were saved already, they did not stay in Egypt, but left via the Red Sea– passing out of the old country and into a new country. Noah’s family in a sense was saved already just by being in the ark, but they were also waiting for a new life, which would come through the flood– passing out of the old world, and into the new world.

In the most important place– in their hearts– they had already passed out of the old country and the old world, just by staying in the house which had lamb’s blood on the doorposts, and just by staying in the ark. What followed was just an outward representation of the salvation they had already experienced. In water baptism the outward experience takes place after a person is born-again and saved by the regenerating of the Holy Spirit, through the blood of Jesus Christ.

The Greek word for “saved” in I Peter 3:21 is “sozo,” which also appears in the following verses. On people’s part, we are saved by calling on the name of the Lord, and by believing, which really are different aspects of the same idea:

“And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50)

“Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” (Luke 8:12)

“And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21)

“And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:31)

“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” (Romans 5:9)

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)

“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (I Corinthians 1:21)

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) 

In light of this multitude of verses connecting faith to being saved– not water baptism, it is scriptural to conclude that when Peter said “baptism doth also now save” he is speaking typologically. To adopt the view that Peter meant water baptism remits sins, we would have to immerse the rest of the New Testament in a watery salvation by works gospel.


Menno Simons (AD 1496-1561) concerning Roman Catholic baptismal regeneration makes the following rebuttals and also points out that I Peter 3:21 is not referring to water baptism, but to Spirit baptism (I Corinthians 12:13), which is a good interpretation, considering Hebrews 9:14: “Beloved sirs, friends, and brethren, awake and delay not, render the Most High his due praise and honor, and give ear to his holy word, for those who maintain that the baptism of children that are incapable of understanding, is a washing of regeneration, do violence to the word of God; resist the Holy Ghost; make Christ a liar, and his holy apostles false witnesses; for Christ and his apostles teach that regeneration comes through faith from God and his word, which word is not to be taught to those who are unable to hear or understand, but to those who have the ability, both to hear and understand; this is incontrovertible. The holy apostle Peter also explains the same and says, that ‘even baptism doth also now save us; not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God (or the covenant of a good conscience toward God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,’ 1 Pet. 3:21. Here Peter teaches us how the inward baptism saves us, by which the inner man is washed, and not the outward baptism by which the flesh is washed; for only this inward baptism, as already stated, is of value in the sight of God, while outward baptism follows only as an evidence of obedience which is of faith; for could outward baptism save without the inner washing, the whole Scriptures which speak of the new man, would be spoken to no purpose. The kingdom of heaven would be bound to elementary water; the blood of Christ would be shed in vain, and no one that is baptized could be lost. No, no! outward baptism avails nothing so long as we are not inwardly renewed, regenerated, and baptized of God, with the heavenly fire and the Holy Ghost.” (Simons, vol. 1; 40-41) 

  1. Implicit Example: Crossing the Jordan in Joshua’s Day

“Joshua was a type of Christ in various actions of his; in leading the people through the river Jordan, an emblem either of baptism, or of afflictions, or of death itself, in which Christ is with his people, and carries them through…” (Gill 

Just as crossing the Red Sea was a type of baptism, so the crossing of the Jordan (also on dry land) into the Promised Land is a reflection of that.

In section 3 we saw that the ark of the covenant is a type of Jesus Christ. In the crossing of the Jordan the people were told to wait for and follow the ark of the covenant: “And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it.” (Joshua 3:3)

The people were told to sanctify themselves before passing through this “baptism”:

“And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5) The children of Israel were not “saved” by going through the river. They were people who were already part of God’s covenant and committed to obeying God through His servants: “According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee: only the LORD thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses.” (Joshua 1:17)

“And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,) That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho.” (Joshua 3:15-16)

“For the LORD your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over that all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever.” (Joshua 4:23-24) 

Moses representing the law, did not bring people into the Promised Land (representing heaven). Nobody can get to heaven by keeping the law. But, Jacob Prasch explains, “…Joshua pre-Exilicly having the same name as Jesus– that is ‘Yeshua’– post-Exilicly represents Christ as the one who can bring us into the Promised Land representing heaven.” (Prasch, 266)

  1. Implicit Examples From Elijah’s and Elisha’s Lives

At mount Carmel Elijah “baptized” the sacrifice (a bullock) with four barrels of water three times (18:33-35)– twelve barrels of water total. Elijah’s prayer was that the people would repent by turning their hearts back: “Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.” (I Kings 18:37) 

This kind of repentance was also the ministry of John the Baptist and the future “Elijah,” who comes at least in the character of if it is not actually Elijah– one of the two witnesses of Revelation chapter 11: “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:6)

Typologically the bullock doesn’t represent people in general, because the bullocks used for sacrifice were supposed to be “without blemish.” This represents Jesus’ sinless life.

After being “baptized,” the fire of the Lord fell on the sacrifice: “Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” (I Kings 18:38)

Unlike the sacrifice which is “without blemish,” people first need to be cleansed of their sins (by the blood of Jesus and the baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire) before we can offer our lives to God. After that a person is a candidate for water baptism: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

After the people of Israel in Elijah’s time had repented, the land was drenched in rain as if in figure it was being water baptized: “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.” (I Kings 18:39) “And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel.” (I Kings 18:45)

Just as Joshua and the children of Israel crossed the Jordan supernaturally on dry ground, so did Elijah and Elisha going from Jericho to the other side of the Jordan: “And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off: and they two stood by Jordan. And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.” (II Kings 2:7-8)

Jacob Prasch spells out the meaning of this typologically: “Crossing the Jordan has always conveyed the imagery of entering the Promised Land as a figure of leaving the temporal world and entering into heaven.” (Prasch, 265) In the above example though, the direction was in reverse. Typologically Elijah returned back to earth. This is interesting considering the fact that Moses died beyond Jordan, and Elijah was taken up beyond the Jordan, which may be an indication that these two– Moses and Elijah (who also appeared with Jesus in Matthew 17:3), may indeed still have a mission to accomplish on earth as the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11.

Then, after Elijah was raptured, Elisha went from the other side of the Jordan back to Jericho as if typologically entering back into the Promised Land to serve the Lord: “He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.” (II Kings 2:13-14) In this typology of going from heaven to earth, the Jordan river represents a death between these two, just as water baptism also represents death, and then new life. Again, this is not the point of regeneration, as Elijah was a servant of the Lord and blessed by God with miracles long before these events and Elisha was anointed to be a prophet long before this also (I Kings 19:16-21).

Elisha who had a double portion of Elijah’s spirit also foreshadowed John the Baptist by having Naaman “baptized” in the Jordan river: “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (2 Kings 5:12-14)

John the Baptist’s purpose was to let Jesus be revealed: “And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” (John 1:31-33)

Like all of the prophets of old, John the Baptist prefigured aspects of the life of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist baptized with water, but the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire. John’s water baptism was a “shadow” which symbolized the reality of Jesus’ superior baptism. Now also water baptism continues as a symbol of the living reality of what Jesus does in a person’s life: like an animal sacrifice on the altar the believer surrenders their life to God (after being first cleansed by Jesus’ blood). The sacrifice is already dead at that point (I Kings 18:33). Then it is baptized and the fire falls.

The animal sacrifice is a “shadow” pointing to the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. Unlike the animal sacrifice though, Jesus was raised back to life on the third day. Believers in Jesus also are raised to newness of life, which is symbolized in baptism.

Also, Naaman, when he submitted himself to go into the river Jordan seven times, was cleansed of his leprosy, a foreshadowing of our spiritual cleansing by the Holy Spirit. The water did not have any cleansing power, but represents the washing by the Holy Spirit. Every true believer is baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ before receiving water baptism (I Corinthians 12:13). We worship the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), not being dependent on a specific physical place. A person can be baptized in the Jordan river nowadays, or they could be baptized in a swimming pool in a Gentile country. Our faith is not in the location, just as our faith is not in the ceremony of baptism. We worship God in spirit and in truth. 

Elijah foreshadowed John the Baptist. Given the background of baptismal types relating to the Jordan river, we see how appropriate it was for John the Baptist to have his ministry at the Jordan river, but we know that “the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63), and therefore we don’t make pilgrimages to the Jordan river or collect vials of its water as relics, etc. This river is a shadow which points to living water which is the Holy Spirit: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)” (John 7:38-39)

These are outward signs, just like many of the Old Testament types that we see in the temple. A sign is not something to camp out on. A sign points to something beyond itself. Water baptism is an outward sign that points to the spiritual reality of what has already taken place in a truly repentant person’s life. Just like in the ordinance of communion, it is not the material substance we are supposed to focus on, so too, in the ordinance of baptism, we have a material symbol (by itself profiting nothing), which points to the spiritual reality: “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63)

This spiritual reality is not obtained by the material ceremony, but by faith in Jesus Christ: “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” (John 19:4)

The Hebrew word “tabal” (dipped) is used in Exodus 12:22 when the hyssop was dipped in the blood of the lamb and then struck on the doorposts; in Joshua 3:15 when the priests dipped their feet in the Jordan; and in II Kings 5:14 when Naaman dipped seven times in the Jordan.

As in baptism, so also with circumcision in the Old Testament– the heart is the key factor: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Romans 2:28-29)

Circumcision was a private ceremony, whereas animal sacrifices were public ceremonies. Everyone needs to believe and be born again privately and inwardly, but baptism is a public ceremony, which symbolizes outwardly the death (sacrifice) and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In these various prototypes of water baptism, we’ve seen that these occurred with people who were already part of God’s covenant. The types of water baptism were not means towards getting them into the covenant, but they were saved by faith in God, and then outwardly obeyed as God led them.

Birds of a Feather: Campbell and Company

The modern “Churches of Christ” have their roots in the teachings of Alexander Campbell (AD 1788-1866) and Barton Stone (AD 1772-1844) among others. Campbell was from a Presbyterian background and joined with the Baptists for a while. In a thesis for Florida State University, Todd Michael Brenneman wrote, “Campbell’s movement united with the movement of Barton W. Stone in 1832. The two groups recognized their similarities and decided their differences were ignorable, at least to some extent. Campbell’s desire for a united Christendom seemed like a distinct possibility.” (Brenneman, 2)

Peter Cartwright (AD 1785-1872) who was a contemporary of Stone and Campbell and who also outlived them, had a colorful way of communicating the truth of the Bible and refuting the errors of what he saw in the “Stoneites” and in “Campbellism”: “These ministers then rose up and unitedly renounced the jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church, organized a Church of their own, and dubbed it with the name of Christian. Here was the origin of what was called the New Lights. They renounced the Westminster Confession of Faith, and all Church discipline, and professed to take the New Testament for their Church discipline. They established no standard of doctrine; every one was to take the New Testament, read it, and abide his own construction of it. Marshall, M Namar, Dunlevy, Stone, Huston, and others, were the chief leaders in this trash trap. Soon a diversity of opinion sprang up and they got into a Babel confusion. Some preached Arian, some Socinian, and some, Universalist doctrines; so that in a few years you could not tell what was harped and what was danced. They adopted the mode of immersion, the water-god of all exclusive errorists; and directly there was a mighty controversy about the way to heaven, whether it was by water or by dry land…. B. W. Stone stuck to his New Lightism, and fought many bloodless battles till he grew old and feeble, and the mighty Alexander Campbell, the great, arose and poured such floods of regenerating water about the old man’s cranium, that he formed a union with this giant errorist, and finally died, not much lamented out of the circle of a few friends.” (Cartwright, 8-9)

“Campbell was postmillennial and had a publication called the Millennial Harbinger, supposedly getting people ready for this Millennium before Christ’s return. ‘…in so far as the ancient order of things, or the religion of the New Testament is restored, just so far has the Millennium commenced, and so far have its blessings been enjoyed.'” (Brenneman, 24)

By denouncing creeds and throwing out 1900 years of Christian doctrinal statements, Campbell effectively threw off the anchor and dislodged many people from the shores of sound doctrine. The result was that “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). We will see later just how far out to sea some people took this– many souls suffered spiritual shipwreck through Campbell’s ideas.

In 1837, Methodist minister William Phillips wrote a book exposing the errors of Campbellism: “The following items of belief, stated, however, in our own language, are found in the writings and actions of Mr. Campbell, and so far as we know or believe, universally adopted by his followers. 1. Creeds and confessions are useless and mischievous—we will have none. 2. God calls no man to preach the gospel—we will believe no man who says he is ‘called and sent.’ 3. The Holy Spirit has nothing to do with sinners—the Word and Spirit are synonymous. 4. There can be no christian experience before immersion—immersion alone is the act of turning to God. 5. Immersion is an institution divinely appointed for the remission of sins—no man can enjoy the peace of God or the hope of heaven, till he goes down into the water. 6. It is folly to pray for the pardon of sin– be immersed 7. Immersion, regeneration, and conversion are convertible terms, and mean the same thing —immersion is conversion. 8. The common version of the New Testament is not to be trusted—we will have a Testament of our own, that shall agree with our opinions.” (Phillips, 191-192)

“In a movement that prized the individual’s ability to comprehend scripture, doctrine, and ecclesiology on one’s own, the reliance on Campbell’s insight indicates a shifting role for Alexander Campbell. He was no longer the prophet attacking degenerate Christianity. While he never entirely gave up a vision of restored Christianity nor gave up a prophetic voice, Campbell became one of the priests he had so vociferously attacked in his early years.” (Brenneman, 29)

Campbell became a magnet for rebels, because he himself was a rebel entertaining speculative theology rather than sound doctrine. “Dissatisfied that Campbell had not pushed the movement further along the restorationist track, both Rigdon and Thomas found contentment in other ways: Rigdon with the Mormons; Thomas with his own movement, the Christadelphians.” (Brenneman, 36)

Many of the early leaders in Mormonism were originally preachers or members of Campbellite churches, such as Sidney Rigdon, Parley Pratt, Orson Hyde, Lyman Wight, Edward Partridge, John Corril, John Murdock, and Simonds Ryder. (http:// Not only was Campbell a catalyst for the modern day salvation by baptism movement in the “Churches of Christ,” but he also was influential in “helping” people to cut loose their anchors and go into the Christadelphian, and Mormon cults– hardly a legacy to be proud of.

Other Examples From History

Albinus from the 8th century AD was mentioned earlier showing his belief that Christians are born again by the Word of God (I Peter 1:23)– not by baptism. Here are a few more examples of Christian teachers who also were against baptismal regeneration, from the 14th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries:

Fourteenth Century Witness

John Wycliffe (AD 1331-1384) was a pioneer in standing apart from Rome in order to be faithful to Holy Scriptures. He interpreted John 3:5 not relating to water baptism, but as the water which flowed out of Jesus’ side at the crucifixion and stressed the necessity of Spirit baptism. I don’t think this is a good interpretation (regarding the water out of Jesus’ side anyway), but he did differ with the baptismal regeneration belief in saying that water baptism is a “sign” and that the Spirit baptism is what is absolutely necessary in order to be born again. Wycliffe considered that a person could be saved without baptism if circumstances prevented obedience to Christ’s command, and he laid stress upon the work of the cross and the Holy Ghost as the essential factors in our salvation:

“…it is commonly said that the church hath a threefold baptism– the baptism of water, of blood, and of fire…. The baptism of fire is the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which is absolutely necessary to every man if he is to be saved. Accordingly, the two former baptisms are antecedent signs…. So then without doubt, if this unseen baptism be performed, the man so baptized is cleansed from guilt: and if this be wanting, however the others may be present, the baptism availeth not to save the soul…. With regard to the language of Scripture, (John iii) ‘Unless a man be born again of water and of the Spirit,’ &c. it is probable that Christ there speaks of the water which flowed from his side, and of the third kind of baptism [that of the Holy Ghost], because it appears indubitable that a man who suffers martyrdom for Christ will be saved even though he may not have been baptized with water. So it seems probable that the words of Christ have this negative meaning–viz., that no man can enter the kingdom of heaven except he be baptized with the baptism of the water that flowed from the side of Christ, (i.e. cleansing from guilt by his passion,) and with the baptism of fire, (i.e. from the influence of the Holy Spirit,)…” (159-160)

Sixteenth Century Witnesses

William Tyndale (AD 1494-1536), was very clear about baptism not justifying us, and that a person could be saved without baptism also. He rightly saw baptism as an outward sign: “As for example, the work of baptism, that outward washing, which is the visible sacrament or sign, justifieth us not. But God only justifieth us actively, as cause efficient or workman.” (Tyndale, 1849; 90) 

“Lo, now, dear reader, to believe in Christ’s blood for the remission of sin, and purchasing of all the good promises that help to the life to come; and to love the law; and to long for the life to come, is the inward baptism of the soul, the baptism that only availeth in the sight of God; the new generation and image of Christ…” (Tyndale, 1849; 13)

“For it is the covenant only, and not the sign, that saveth us; though the sign be commanded to be put on at due time, to stir up faith of the covenant that saveth us.”

” And as the circumcised in the heart, and not in the flesh, had part in God’s good promises; even so a Turk unbaptized (because he either knoweth not, that he ought to have it, or cannot for tyranny,) if he believe in Christ, and love as Christ did and taught, then hath he his part in Christ’s blood.” ” And hereof ye see, that our sacraments are bodies of stories only; and that there is none other virtue in them, than to testify, and exhibit to the senses and understanding, the covenants and promises made in Christ’s blood. And here ye see that where the sacraments, or ceremonies, are not rightly understood, there they be clean unprofitable.” ” Neither our salvation so greatly standeth in that or any other sacrament, that we could not be saved without them, by preaching the word only.” (Tyndale: 12011633/

Anabaptist Menno Simons (AD 1496-1561), from whom the Mennonites get their name, was clearly opposed to baptismal regeneration: “To teach and believe thus, my brethren, is first, a fearful idolatry, and abominable blasphemy against the blood of Christ. There is no remedy, in heaven nor on earth, for our sins, whether they are inherent or worldly, but the blood of Christ alone, as we have often shown in our first writings, 1Pet. 1:19; 1 Jn. 1:7; Eph. 1:7. If we ascribe the remission of sins to baptism and not to the blood of Christ, then we mould a golden calf and place it in the stead of Christ. For if we could be washed or cleansed by baptism, then Christ Jesus and his merits would be of none effect; otherwise we must admit that there are two means for the remission of sin which is not, nor ever can be; first, baptism; second, the blood of Christ. For the most holy and most precious blood of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ must and shall have the praise, as has been so clearly prophesied and testified of all the true prophets and apostles, throughout the Scriptures.” (Simons, vol. 2; 303-304)

Seventeenth Century Witnesses

Slightly before Bunyan’s time, Martyr’s Mirror, written in 1660, has a confession of faith which is estimated to be from about AD 1600, which states: “This outward baptism with water does not properly constitute the entrance to the kingdom of God, nor does the visible element of the water contain any power or holiness; neither is it able to give any grace and salvation; but, as the waters of Jordan and Siloam did not, properly speaking, heal leprosy and blindness, but only the power of God, to which they were herein subject and obedient, so also the water in baptism has no power to forgive our sins, and to cleanse the filthiness of our flesh, but is simply a token and proof of the grace and blood of Christ in the washing away of sin, which man, through faith and regeneration, by grace, has received, in the heart, before baptism, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, which is proclaimed in baptism;. and without this internal baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire, the external, visible, water baptism is as useless and vain, as the seal on an empty letter.” (Van Braght, 396) 

John Bunyan also denied that baptism provides rebirth: “I told you also, That baptism makes thee no member of the church, neither doth it make thee a visible saint: It giveth thee therefore, neither right to, nor being of membership at all.” (Bunyan, 5) “‘He that is not baptized [in water], if yet a true believer, hath the DOCTRINE of baptism; yea, he ought to have it before he be convicted, it is his duty to be baptized, or else he playeth the hypocrite. There is therefore no difference between that believer that is, and he that is not yet baptized with water; but only his going down into the water, there to perform an outward ceremony, the substance of which he hath already.” (Bunyan, 14)

“For if Christ be my righteousness, and not water; if Christ be my advocate, and not water; if there be that good and blessedness in Christ, that is not in water; then is Jesus Christ better than water; and also in these to be eternally divided from water; unless we will make them co-saviours, co-advocates, and such as are equally good and profitable to men.” (Bunyan, 13-14)

“Baptism being the outward sign of the inward graces wrought by the Spirit, a representation or figure, as in 1 Peter 3:21,‘The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us [not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,] by the resurrection of Jesus Christ’; not excluding water baptism; but shewing, That the spiritual part is chiefly to be looked at: though such as slight water baptism, as the Pharisees and lawyers did (Luke 7:30), reject the counsel of God against themselves, not being baptized. And such as would set water baptism in the Spirit’s place, exalt a duty against the deity and dignity of the Spirit, and to give the glory due unto him, as God blessed for ever, unto a duty.” (Bunyan, 36-37)

Eighteenth Century Witnesses

Hymn writer Isaac Watts (AD 1674-1748) pointed to the blood of Jesus and the Holy Spirit which cleanse us, not the water: “Baptismal water is designed to seal his cleansing grace, while at his feast of bread and wine He gives his saints a place. But not the waters of a flood can make my flesh so clean, as by his Spirit and his blood He’ll wash my soul from sin. Not choicest meats, or noblest wines, so much my heart refresh, as when my faith goes through the signs, and feeds upon his flesh. I love the Lord that stoops so low to give his word a seal; But the rich grace his hands bestow exceeds the figures still.” (Watts, 909) Bible commentator John Gill (AD 1697-1771) gave this comment for John chapter 3, verse 5: “…by ‘water,’ is not meant material water, or baptismal water; for water baptism is never expressed by water only, without some additional word, which shows, that the ordinance of water baptism is intended: nor has baptism any regenerating influence in it; a person may be baptized, as Simon Magus was, and yet not born again; and it is so far from having any such virtue, that a person ought to be born again, before he is admitted to that ordinance: and though submission to it is necessary, in order to a person’s entrance into a Gospel church state; yet it is not necessary to the kingdom of heaven, or to eternal life and salvation: such a mistaken sense of this text, seems to have given the first birth and rise to infant baptism in the African churches; who taking the words in this bad sense, concluded their children must be baptized, or they could not be saved; whereas by ‘water’ is meant, in a figurative and metaphorical sense, the grace of God, as it is elsewhere; see Ezekiel 36:25…” (Gill) 

John Wesley (AD 1703-1791), although he accepted both adult and infant baptism, was clear on water baptism not being the time at which a person is born again. Even infant baptism to him and the Church of England was an outward sign and did not mean the baby was regenerated by the Holy Spirit at that time: “Lean no more on the staff of that broken reed, that ye were born again in baptism.” (Wesley, 191)

Biblically speaking it would be very odd indeed if being born-again and being water baptized coincided at the same moment. A person who had no faith would have to repent and believe right at the moment someone else who had no idea of their being ready to convert, was ready to baptize them! 

John Wesley further dispels the theory that the pre-mid-nineteenth century church knew nothing of water baptism as “an outward sign of an inward grace”: “And, First, it follows, that baptism is not the new birth: They are not one and the same thing. Many indeed seem to imagine that they are just the same; at least, they speak as if they thought so; but I do not know that this opinion is publicly avowed by any denomination of Christians whatever. Certainly it is not by any within these kingdoms, whether of the established Church, or dissenting from it. The judgment of the latter is clearly declared in the large Catechism: [Q. 163, 165. — Ed.] — Q. ‘What are the parts of a sacrament? A.The parts of a sacrament are two: The one an outward and sensible sign; the other, an inward and spiritual grace, thereby signified. — Q. What is baptism? A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water, to be a sign and seal of regeneration by his Spirit.’ Here it is manifest, baptism, the sign, is spoken of as distinct from regeneration, the thing signified. In the Church Catechism likewise, the judgment of our Church is declared with the utmost clearness: “What meanest thou by this word, sacrament? A. I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Q. What is the outward part or form in baptism? A. Water, wherein the person is baptized, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Q. What is the inward part, or thing signified? A. A death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness.” Nothing, therefore, is plainer than that, according to the Church of England, baptism is not the new birth.” (Wesley, 473-474)

Nineteenth Century Witnesses

In 1837, Methodist minister William Phillips wrote a book exposing the errors of Campbell’s “water regeneration,” in which he said, “But who could have dreamed that a Protestant reformer, in the nineteenth century, claiming exemption, alike, from Catholicism and ‘sectarianism,’ would rake up water regeneration from the dregs of papal rubbish, and make it a leading feature of his reformation? This Mr. Campbell has done. I do not assert that his views on this subject are precisely those of the Catholic church, but they are substantially the same. Each makes baptism necessary to the remission of sins—a sine qua non in the salvation of man. The following quotations from Mr. Campbell’s Millennial Harbinger– extra. No. 1, will show that we do not misrepresent him : ‘If we speak Scripturally we must use these terms (immersion, regeneration, and conversion,) as all descriptive of the same thing.’ ‘Remission of sins cannot in this life be received or enjoyed previous to immersion.’ ‘Immersion alone is the act of turning to God.’ ‘No man can enjoy the peace of God, or the hope of heaven, until he is immersed for the remission of sins.'” (Phillips, 18-19) 

Methodist circuit preacher Peter Cartwright wrote, “Poor man, he was so confused by fishing in the muddy waters of Campbellism, that he lost his mental balance. He would not yield to the Spirit of God, and submit to be an humble, shouting, happy Christian. Sometimes he would talk rational ; sometimes quote, and apply the Scriptures right ; then, again, he became sceptical. But the great difficulty was, the pride of his professed ministerial standing would not let him yield, and renounce his errors. Thus he worried on for a considerable time, and was carried into the whirlpool of doubt and unbelief. His friends talked to him, but talked in vain. He became more and more flighty in his mind, till at length, in a paroxysm of insanity, he shot himself. This event fell like a thunderbolt on his family and the surrounding community; and proves that it is a hard thing to fight against God.” (Cartwright, 176-177)

“When it was known that Mrs. _______ , a Campbellite, was at the mourners bench, it awfully shocked some of her fellow-members in that watery regiment. She was in such an agony and such good earnest, I almost knew it would not be long till she found the blessing, and while I was leading some other convicted persons to the altar, the Lord powerfully converted this Campbellite heroine. She sprang to her feet, and shouted over the house like a top, and she fell directly to pulling and hauling her Campbellite friends to the Methodist altar, exhorting them to come and get religion, and not for a moment longer to depend on water for salvation, butcome and try the Methodist fire, or the fire of the Holy Ghost, and the way she piled up the Campbellite friends at the altar was sublimely awful. After she had got a great number there, she took after her preacher, and exhorted him to come and get religion, ‘for,’ said she, ‘I know you have none,’ but he resisted and fled. Several of his members children had obtained religion, and several more were seeking it. He then started a meeting in his own church to draw off his members and others from the Methodist meeting, and if ever you saw a water divinity grow sick and pale, it was just about this time. Things were so cold at his church, that the little effort soon failed. There were over one hundred and twenty professed religion and joined the Methodist Church during this meeting, and, according to my best recollection, thirteen of them were Campbellites.” (Cartwright, 200-201)

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (AD 1834-1892) said, “We hold that persons are not saved by baptism, for we think, first of all that it seems out of character with the spiritual religion which Christ came to teach, that he should make salvation depend upon mere ceremony. Judaism might possibly absorb the ceremony by way of type into her ordinances essential to eternal life; for it was religion of types and shadows. The false religions of the heathen might inculcate salvation by a physical process, but Jesus Christ claims for his faith that it is purely spiritual, and how could he connect regeneration with a peculiar application of aqueous fluid?…. If this be your teaching, that regeneration goes with baptism, I say it looks like the teaching of a spurious Church, which has craftily invented a mechanical salvation to deceive ignorant, sensual, and groveling minds, rather than the teaching of the most profoundly spiritual of all teachers, who rebuked Scribes and Pharisees for regarding outward rites as more important than inward grace…. Call a man a Baptist, or a Presbyterian, or a Dissenter, or a Churchman, that is nothing to me– if he says that baptism saves the soul, out upon him, out upon him, he states what God never taught, what the Bible never laid down, and what ought never to be maintained by men who profess that the Bible, and the whole Bible, is the religion of Protestants…. shake off this venomous faith into the fire as Paul did the viper which fastened on his hand. I pray you do not rest on baptism. ‘No outward forms can make you clean, The leprosy lies deep within.'”


Whether baptism is twisted by means of equating it with Buddhist ideas, or by means of equating it to Roman Catholic works salvation, the true message of baptism is lost and faith is misplaced. Baptismal regeneration is a gospel of water. Our faith is in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. Baptism is a command given by our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20), and every true believer desires to obey Jesus in this. But, our faith is not in the ceremony. Campbellism was a divisive and splintered movement even from its beginnings. In modern times the “Churches of Christ” have carried on this tradition of splintering, such as Kip McKean’s (the dynamo behind the ICC’s modern momentum) forced resignation from the International “Church of Christ,” and his takeover of the Portland Church of Christ. We see the fruits of what this false doctrine has done. Instead of following men who are seeking to “draw away the disciples after them,” (Acts 20:30) we should heed Paul’s words given by the Holy Spirit: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)


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