Investigation Baptismal Regeneration in Mark 16:16
I am going to look at a number of passages in their immediate context and then later in a broader context. I have to make a comment upfront and acknowledge that the authenticity of the longer ending or Mark (Mark 16:9-20) is questioned by many scholars. I do not intend to address this issue, rather, for argument sake, I will make the assumption that this longer ending is authentic. However, if we did find any significant meaning in a disputed section of scripture, we must be extremely cautious in building doctrine on questionable scripture.
ὁ πιστεύσας καὶ βαπτισθεὶς σωθήσεται, ὁ δὲ ἀπιστήσας κατακριθήσεται. (Mark 16:16) [Holmes, M. W. (2010; 2010). The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition]
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” - Mark 16:16 HCSB
Let’s take a look at this passage logically and see what we can determine.
- According to Mark 16:16 who will be saved?
- According to Mark 16:16 who will be condemned?
When you read this passage, you will note that the passage talks about those that are saved and those that are not (condemned) and that there is an imbalance in the statement.1 The question is, did the author of Mark imply that both belief and baptism are required to be saved and not condemned or did the author imply that only belief was needed to be saved and not condemned. This, then, raises the question as to why baptism was mentioned. Many possible explanations can be given from baptism being our response to our salvation to a work out of faith. However, this passage does not address this issue and anything we propose is speculation.
When we take the passage and balance the statement in order to determine the intent of the author, we have one of two possible meanings:
- Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned
- Whoever believes will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned
|Mark 16:16||belief and baptism||unbelief|
|Possibility A||belief and baptism||unbelief and no baptism|
Because the statement is ambiguous, we must infer the intent of the author from one of two possible meanings. Those who believe in baptismal regeneration (the need of baptism for salvation) will insist that inference A is the correct meaning. While those who support sola fida (salvation by faith alone) will insist that inference B is the correct meaning.
Because the author of Mark gives no indication in this portion of the discourse, we cannot assume either possible meaning. If we infer either possible meaning, we run the danger of putting meaning into the text or taking meaning out of the text.2 With that in mind, this passage by itself is neutral to either possible meaning. It neither supports baptismal generation nor rejects it.
To understand what God has for us, we will need to take the scriptures as a whole.3
1. This is sometimes referred to as a negative inference.
2. The general exhortation in Revelation 22:18-19 and the command in Deuteronomy 4:1-2 warns us not to add or subtract anything from God’s Word.
3. With the assumption that the Bible is God inspired we have the principle of non-contradiction. Meaning that God inspired the words in the Bible and as such there is a logical consistency across 66 books with over 30 different authors.