Comparative Theology

Roman Catholicism and Baptism

"Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. Acts 10:47-48

Is It Necessary to Be Baptized in Water in Order to Be Saved?

One of the concerns I have with Roman Catholicism (RC) is its insistence that water baptism is necessary for salvation. Not only that but RC insists that it is water baptism that regenerates us, or makes us alive in Christ. We call this view "Baptismal Regeneration." Furthermore RC debunks as false doctrine the belief that faith in Jesus, by itself is sufficient for salvation. Let me document the Roman Catholic view on baptism as being essential for salvation. Following that, we will examine Scripture passages that RC interprets as supporting Baptismal Regeneration. We will also comment on the Roman Catholic belief that Church Tradition helps prove the Church's belief in Baptismal Regeneration. Finally, we will identify at least a few Scriptures that assert that faith in Jesus is the lone requirement for salvation. In the process we will try to distinguish Water Baptism from Spirit Baptism.

Is baptism necessary for salvation? The RCC affirms that it is. I will begin this section with a couple of personal anecdotes. Once I was having a friendly conversation with a friend of mine, a RC priest. I mentioned to him that I had read through portions of the Council of Trent. I had taken note of all the anathemas hurled at anyone who disagreed with the RC teaching on various subjects. Having investigated the significance of an anathema, I asked my friend if I were going to go to hell. He answered me with a question. And that question surprised me. He asked, "Have you been baptized?" To which I replied, "Yes, but not by a Catholic Priest." He queried further, "Have you been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost?" "Yes," I replied. His surprising answer was, essentially, "You're good to go."

I was a bit stunned. He didn't ask me if I believed in Jesus the Messiah. He didn't ask which of the doctrines of the church I struggled with. He wanted to know if I had submitted to baptism. I had. I was good to go.

On another occasion, I had the opportunity to visit a doctor in a medical clinic located within a RC Hospital. As I was registering, the worker asked me an interesting question. She said, "We are a Catholic hospital, so I need to ask you this question: 'Have you been baptized?'" I replied, "Yes, but not by a Catholic priest." She replied, "All I need to know is whether you have been baptized."

It amazes me that anyone can believe that a physical substance, H2O, administered in a particular way with a particular utterance, can, in any sense, help grant forgiveness and eternal life to a human being. How can water wash away sin?

Since I have researched the matter a bit, I can see why both of these individuals addressed me as they did. Here is what I found out:

The Roman Catholic Church Believes Baptism is Necessary for Salvation

Part Two of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is entitled, "The Celebration of the Christian Mystery." Section Two is entitled, "The Seven Sacraments of the Church." Chapter One is entitled, "The Sacraments of Christian Initiation." Article 1 is entitled, "The Sacrament of Baptism." [Article 2 is "The Sacrament of Confirmation."]

The introductory paragraph, 1213 reads as follows:

RCC: 1213 Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua),4 [Cf. Council Of Florence: DS 1314: vitae spiritualis ianua.] and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word." 5 [Roman Catechism II,2,5; Cf. Council Of Florence: DS 1314; CIC, cann. 204 § 1; 849; CCEO, can. 675 § 1.] [Emphasis mine.]

WordExplain: We can see that RC believes that water baptism accomplishes the following for the person being baptized: (1) it frees him from sin; (2) it provides for him new birth as a son of God; (3) it causes him to become a member of Christ; (4) it incorporates him into the universal church; and (5) it regenerates him. In fact, mere water, no matter how applied and with whatever verbal formula, can never wash away human sin; can never cause someone to be born as a son of God; can never place someone in the body of Christ; can never incorporate anyone into the universal church; and can never regenerate a person.

Here is another statement in the RC Catechism on the Sacrament of Baptism: Paragraph 1215 reads as follows:

RCC: 1215 This sacrament is also called "the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit," for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one "can enter the kingdom of God."7 [Footnote 7 cites Titus 3:5; John 3:5] [Emphasis mine.]

WordExplain: We can determine (1) that RC subscribes to baptismal regeneration. It identifies by name water baptism as "the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit; (2) that water baptism actually causes the one being baptized to be born again, or born from above; (3) that water baptism actually causes Spirit baptism. We respond that baptismal regeneration is a misinterpretation of Scripture. Water baptism cannot cause one to be born again. And water baptism cannot cause Spirit baptism.

Here is another statement in the RC Catechism on the Sacrament of Baptism: Paragraph 1263 reads as follows:

RCC: 1263 By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin.66 In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam's sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God. [Emphasis mine.]

WordExplain: Thus we can see that RC believes that water baptism brings about (1) forgiveness of all sins; (2) forgiveness of the sin nature that all possess; (3) and forgiveness for all punishment for sins; [If this is actually true, what is the point of RC's belief in indulgences -- something that is not, by the way, found in Scripture?] (4) Furthermore, Roman Catholics believe that, once baptized, entry into God's Kingdom is guaranteed. In actual fact water baptism cannot forgive sins. Water baptism cannot forgive the sin nature. Water baptism provides no guaranteed entrance into God's kingdom.

Here is yet another statement in the RC Catechism on the Sacrament of Baptism: Paragraph 1265 reads as follows:

RCC: 1265 Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte "a new creature," an adopted son of God, who has become a "partaker of the divine nature,"69 [citing 2 Cor. 5:17; 2 Pet. 1:4; cf. Gal. 4:5-7] member of Christ and co-heir with him,70 [Cf. 1 Cor. 6:15; 12:27; Rom. 8:17] and a temple of the Holy Spirit.71 [Cf. 1 Cor. 6:19]

WordExplain: It is not water baptism that purifies us from all sins, but rather, the blood of Christ (John 1:29, 35-36; Rom. 3:24-25; Eph. 2:13; Col. 1:20; Heb. 9:13-14, 28; 1 Pet. 1:1-2, 18-19; 1 John 1:6-7; 2:1-2; Rev. 1:5; 5:6, 8-9). In 2 Peter 1:4 we find that it is not water baptism that enables us to become "partakers of the divine nature." Rather, God's "precious and magnificent promises" enable us to become "partakers of the divine nature."

Subpoint VI. under Article 1 is entitled, "The Necessity of Baptism." Paragraph 1257 begins this way,

"The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation." The Scripture cited is John 3:5.

The reader will note that the word "baptize" or "baptism" does not appear in this Scripture. So RC infers that water baptism is in view here. If one reads the context (John 3:1-8), however, there is a much more likely explanation. More later.

Here is yet another statement in the RC Catechism on the Sacrament of Baptism: Paragraph 1267 reads as follows:

RCC: 1267 Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ: "Therefore . . . we are members one of another."72 [Eph. 4:25]  Baptism incorporates us into the Church. From the baptismal fonts is born the one People of God of the New Covenant, which transcends all the natural or human limits of nations, cultures, races, and sexes: "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body."73 [1 Cor. 12:13] [Emphasis mine.]

WordExplain: RC affirms that it is water baptism that makes us members of the Body of Christ. As proof, this paragraph cites Ephesians 4:25. The difficulty with the Church's view is that this same letter of Paul to the Ephesians cites reasons other than baptism as to why believers are members of Christ's body and thus of one another. (1) In Eph. 1:7 we have redemption through Jesus' blood, not through baptism. (2) In Eph. 1:13, "having believed" (not "having been baptized"), we were sealed with the Spirit of promise. (3) We were saved by grace, not the work of baptism (Eph. 2:5). (4) It is by grace that we have been saved through faith, not as a result of works (not even the work of baptism) (Eph. 2:8-10). (5) We Gentiles are fellow heirs and members of the body, and partakers of the promise in Christ through the gospel, not through baptism (Eph. 3:5). (6) We have boldness and access [to God] through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, not through baptism (Eph. 3:11-12).

Furthermore, in order to prove that water baptism makes us members of Christ's Body, the catechism cites 1 Corinthians 12:13. But this important passage states that it is by means of the Holy Spirit, not by means of water, that we are baptized into the Body of Christ. There is not one drop of water in 1 Corinthians 12:13. This passage does not prove water baptism places us into Christ. Quite to the contrary, it disproves it! There is no baptismal font anywhere on the planet that has the power to baptize believers into the Body of Christ. Only the Holy Spirit has that kind of power!

Here is yet another statement in the RC Catechism on the Sacrament of Baptism: Paragraph 1272 reads as follows:

RCC: 1272 Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation.83 [Cf. Rom. 8:29; Council of Trent (1547): DS 1609-1619.] Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated. [Emphasis mine.]

WordExplain: The RCC takes the position that people, including infants, are incorporated into Christ by water baptism. The church is sadly mistaken. It is Spirit baptism, not water baptism, that incorporates believers into Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Catholicism maintains, moreover, that it is water baptism that seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark of his belonging to Christ. That is not true. The Scriptures expressly state that it is the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) who seals us pursuant to our faith, not our water baptism (Eph. 1:13-14). Catholicism has taken the position, 
in opposition to the practices of Anabaptists, that water baptism cannot be repeated. The Anabaptists denied the validity of infant baptism, for, they said, "Infants cannot believe, therefore, if they are baptized, their baptism is null and void." In fact, there is no New Testament precedent for baptizing infants. It is, therefore, an unbiblical and unwarranted practice. I myself have baptized adult believers who had been baptized as infants. They understood the importance of being baptized after placing their faith in Christ, for that is the model of the NT. One final note: appeals to the decisions of the Council of Trent (see the Canons on Baptism decreed by the Seventh Session) carry no value. Appealing to church tradition is merely that -- an appeal to human tradition. Human tradition has no authority or authenticity next to the teaching of the Scriptures. The Bible is our first and last court of appeal. The Bible trumps all church tradition, whether it be Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, or any other variant. Church tradition never trumps the Scriptures.

Here is yet another statement in the RC Catechism on the Sacrament of Baptism: Paragraph 1274 reads as follows:

RCC: 1274 The Holy Spirit has marked us with the seal of the Lord ("Dominicus character") "for the day of redemption."86 [St. Augustine, Ep. 98,5:PL 33,362; Eph 4:30; cf. 1:13-14; 2 Cor 1:21-22.] "Baptism indeed is the seal of eternal life."87 [St. Irenaeus, Dem ap. 3:SCh 62,32.] The faithful Christian who has "kept the seal" until the end, remaining faithful to the demands of his Baptism, will be able to depart this life "marked with the sign of faith,"88 [Roman Missal, EP I (Roman Canon) 97.] with his baptismal faith, in expectation of the blessed vision of God - the consummation of faith - and in the hope of resurrection.

WordExplain: The RCC maintains that (water) "baptism indeed is the seal of eternal life." This is manifestly untrue, for the Scriptures never say that. What do the Scriptures say? Let us go to the very Scriptures that paragraph 1274 cites. In Christ, "after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:13-14, emphasis mine). Baptism is not mentioned as the seal. The seal is none other than the Holy Spirit Himself.

I acknowledge that Irenaeus (AD 130-202) (The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, paragraph 3) stated that "...we have received baptism for the remission of sins ...." He was undoubtedly referring to Acts 2:38. But in so doing, he wrenched the statement of Peter from its context (on which see below). But when Irenaeus continued on (in paragraph 3), "And that this baptism is the seal of eternal life, and is the new birth unto God," he was teaching false doctrine. It is the words of Scripture that are inspired (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21), not the interpretations of mere men, no matter how close in time they lived to the original Apostles.

Let me add, moreover, that we who place our confidence in Jesus, rather than in our own ability to live acceptably, have this confidence to fall back upon: In Christ "we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11).  Jesus told the grieving Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26; cf. John 3:16-18, 36; 14:6). Our confidence in eternal life is not based upon a liquid applied in such and such a manner, but rather upon the eternal, timeless truths uttered by Christ and by His Apostles.

Here is yet another statement in the RC Catechism on the Sacrament of Baptism: Paragraph 1277 reads as follows:

RCC: 1277 Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ. In accordance with the Lord's will, it is necessary for salvation, as is the Church herself, which we enter by Baptism.

WordExplain: The catechism repeats the false mantra that (water) "baptism is birth into the new life in Christ." It is not. We are born into new life in Christ and thus in the family of God by receiving Jesus, i.e., by believing in His name (John 1:11-13). Moreover, water baptism is not necessary for salvation. The guests in the home of Cornelius were all saved, based solely upon their having placed their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and having received the Holy Spirit prior to their having been baptized (Acts 10:34-48). I might add that this happened under the preaching and the jurisdiction of Peter, whom Catholics errantly proclaim as the head of the Church (contrast Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18).

Canon Law 849:

RCC: Can.  849 Baptism, the gateway to the sacraments and necessary for salvation by actual reception or at least by desire, is validly conferred only by a washing of true water with the proper form of words. Through baptism men and women are freed from sin, are reborn as children of God, and, configured to Christ by an indelible character, are incorporated into the Church. (Emphasis mine.)

WordExplain: This Canon repeats the substance of Paragraph 1213.

Another example: The Catholic Encyclopedia has an article on Baptism. In the section entitled, Authoritative statement of doctrine," we read the following words:

Holy Baptism holds the first place among the sacraments, because it is the door of the spiritual life; for by it we are made members of Christ and incorporated with the Church. And since through the first man death entered into all, unless we be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, we can not enter into the kingdom of Heaven, as Truth Himself has told us. The matter of this sacrament is true and natural water; and it is indifferent whether it be cold or hot.

Here, I believe RC confuses Spirit Baptism with Water Baptism. We are clearly told that it is by the Holy Spirit that believers in Jesus are baptized into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Moreover, there is a better explanation than baptism for water here in the passage alluded to (John 3:5), as we have already indicated. The Holy Spirit can accomplish a spiritual transformation. But how can mere water, however applied, accomplish a spiritual transformation? Again, more about that later.

Here is a statement from the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Indulgences:

"In the Sacrament of Baptism not only is the guilt of sin remitted, but also all the penalties attached to sin."

Let me further support the notion that RC believes in baptismal regeneration. Bryan Cross, in an article entitled, "The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration," writes (in the Introduction),

The only sacrament mentioned by name in the Creed is baptism. We confess in the Creed: "I believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” ... The Catholic Church has always believed and taught that the grace by which we are born again comes to us through the sacrament of baptism.

The Creed of which Cross speaks is the Nicene Creed. But the line about baptism is not to be found in the original Nicene Creed of A.D. 325, held in Nicea. Rather it was added in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381, held in Constantinople. Cross himself admits that. But of course, in his skewed view, church tradition is just as authoritative as the Scripture. WordExplain wholly rejects the view that Church tradition is an authoritative and authentic source of Truth..

Cross acknowledges that Protestants and Catholics have a difference in understanding the significance of baptism. To prove the RCC belief in baptismal regeneration, Cross seeks to cite what the Church Fathers believe about baptism, and then he will seek to cite what Scripture states about baptism. In fact, the very title of his article is "The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration."

Once again, his whole approach simply illustrates the flawed belief structure of the Roman Catholic Church that Church Tradition is just as authoritative as Scripture. That is an invalid belief. Consequently I will not even list what the Church Fathers say nor will I interact. What the Church Fathers say has no binding authority, for nothing that they say is inspired. Instead, let us move directly to Scripture.

The Scriptures which Roman Catholicism Uses to Attempt to Prove Baptismal Regeneration.

John 3:5.

RCC: Paragraph 1257 in The Sacrament of Baptism states that "The Lord himself affirms that baptism is necessary for salvation." The Scripture cited is John 3:5. Paragraph 1215  reads, "This sacrament is also called "the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit," for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one "can enter the kingdom of God." The Scriptures cited are Titus 3:5 and John 3:5.

WordExplain: In the first place, it is only on the basis of church teaching presumed to be true by the RCC that permits the church to assert that "water" in John 3:5 means "baptism." But the word "baptize" or "baptism" is never used. The context alone can determine the meaning of Jesus' statements. Let us examine the context.

(1) Nicodemus was a Pharisee genuinely interested in Jesus' identity. He had correctly concluded that Jesus was a teacher come from God. Jesus' miracles (signs) proved that to Nicodemus (John 3:1-2). But Nicodemus did not yet exercise faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, which was the whole point of His miraculous signs (John 20:30-31). And until Nicodemus did so, he had no hope of entering into or even seeing the kingdom of God which John the Baptist and Jesus had been promising the people of Israel (John 3:3, 5; cf. Matt. 3:2; 4:17, 23).

(2) Jesus responded right to the point: Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). "Born again" translates gennáō (1080) ánōthen (509). The second word can mean either "from above" (Matt. 27:51) or "again, anew" (Gal. 4:9). Nicodemus took the second meaning (John 3:4). Which did Jesus mean? I happen to believe He meant both meanings. He certainly answered Nicodemus on the level that he had responded.

(3) Nicodemus was incredulous. Surely Jesus didn't mean that a man could enter a second time into his mother's womb and be reborn, did He? That would be impossible (John 3:4)!

(4) Then Jesus answered Nicodemus' question on the level he had asked it. He responded, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). I do not think for a moment, that when Jesus spoke of being "born of water," he had water baptism in mind. That is completely foreign to the context. Rather, when Jesus spoke of being "born of water," he was talking about the original birth of a human. We all know that babies are enveloped in amniotic fluid throughout their growth in the womb. A sure sign that a pregnant woman is ready to give birth is "when her water breaks." That is all Jesus meant here. To insert "baptism" here is a clear case of eisegesis based on dogmatically held doctrinal beliefs. What Jesus was saying was that an individual must be born of natural birth first, but that is not enough. He must also be born a second time and/or born from above -- born of the Spirit. If he is not born of the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5).

(5) Jesus is not through. He continues, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." If you are born of water, born the first time, you are merely born of flesh, and you remain flesh. "....and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). If you are going to enter the Kingdom of God, which has a spiritual basis, you must be born a second time by means of the Spirit of God. So John 3:6 confirms the interpretation of John 3:5. If you are merely born the first time (born of water), you remain in the realm of the flesh. If you want to participate in the spiritual kingdom of God, you must be born a second time by means of the Holy Spirit.

(6) Jesus was not really saying anything new (John 3:9-12); He was just saying it in a different way. The Messiah Himself would be Spirit-filled (Isa. 11:2; 42:1; 61:1), and the time was coming when God would pour out His Spirit upon the Israeli people (Isa. 44:3; 59:20-21; Ezek. 36:26-27; 37:14; 39:29; Zech. 12:10), and ultimately upon all flesh (Joel 2:28-29).

(7) In John 3:13-18 Jesus pointed out very clearly how one is born into the Kingdom of God. If one places his trust in the Son of Man, the Messiah, and thus the Son of God, he will have everlasting life! A great many people hate the Light and shun it (John 3:19-20), but those who practice the truth come to the Light (John 3:21). This is consistent with John's introductory statements that the Light was in the world, and that the One who had created the World came to His own things, but His own people did not receive Him (John 1:1-11). But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12). Concerning those who receive Jesus, who believe in His name, the Apostle asserted, "who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). In other words, they were "born again" or "born from above" -- take your pick.

Conclusion: RC (and a number of Protestant denominations) are unjustified in using John 3:3, 5 as a justification for baptismal regeneration. The context will not permit it.

Acts 2:38.

1226 From the very day of Pentecost the Church has celebrated and administered holy Baptism. Indeed St. Peter declares to the crowd astounded by his preaching: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."26 [Acts 2:38]

WordExplain: A superficial reading of Acts 2:38 seems to corroborate the notion that baptism is necessary for salvation, and, in fact, contributes to salvation. But before we jump to that conclusion, let us examine the context of Acts 2:38.

Acts 2:1-13 records Jesus' fulfillment of His promise to send his followers the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:14-36 Peter explains the phenomenon of the believers speaking in foreign languages. First he identifies the tongues-speaking as a (partial) fulfillment of Joel's prophecy of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit with the potential for salvation (Acts 2:14-21). Second, he identifies tongues as the convincing proof that God had made Jesus (whom they had murdered) Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:22-36)! Acts 2:37-41 records the listeners' response to Peter's message.

When Peter informed these listeners (and "all the house of Israel") that God had made Jesus both Lord and Messiah -- and by the way, they had just crucified Him! (Acts 2:36), the crowd were horrified. They "were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?'" (Acts 2:37). Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).

The English language does not do justice to the subtleties of the Greek text of Acts 2:38. Let me enumerate them. "Repent!" is an Aorist (point action) Imperative (command) 2nd person plural of the verb metanoéō (3340). Strictly speaking, it means "perceive afterward, with the implication of being too late to avoid consequences" (Friberg). In this context it means, "Change your mind about who Jesus is! The implication is that they had failed to perceive of Him as their Messiah, and they, along with their nation, had executed Him! Thus, they and their nation were in deep trouble! They needed to change their mind about Jesus and accept Him as their God-anointed King! This business of repenting about who Jesus is was a corporate (plural) responsibility.

The next part of Peter's instruction was, "...and be baptized (Aorist Imperative Passive 3rd person singular of baptídzō, 907), each (singular) of you (plural) in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your (plural) sins, and you will receive (2nd person plural future of lambánō, 2983) the gift of the Holy Spirit" (author's translation). The sense is as follows (adapted from Thomas Constable):

Repent (second person plural)
be baptized (third person singular)
each (singular -- there is no person here in an adjective) of you (second person plural)
for the forgiveness of your (second person plural) sins
and you will receive (second person plural) the gift of the Holy Spirit

According to this view, repenting (2nd person plural) (acknowledging Jesus as Messiah) is linked with forgiveness of your (2nd person plural) sins and receiving (2nd person plural) the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Each person (singular) being baptized (3rd person singular) is a public testimony of one's repentance / faith.

This seems to me to be the best understanding of Acts 2:38. "Repentance demands the witness of baptism; forgiveness is followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit [i.e. Spirit baptism]" (Thomas Constable, quoting E. M. Blaiklok, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 60).

Peter urged the audience with many other words, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" (Acts 2:40). By this he meant that only by trusting in Jesus as their Messiah and publicly identifying with Him in baptism (this was the accepted method for Gentiles to become Jewish proselytes), could they extricate themselves from the terrible judgment that was coming upon Israel. [This judgment manifested itself initially in Rome's destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in A.D. 70.]

Those who received Peter's word (i.e. they repented of their former stance and trusted in Jesus as their Messiah) were publicly baptized (Acts 2:41). Those converts amounted to about 3,000.

Conclusion: I do not see baptism here as regenerating the believers. Rather, I see it as a witness to their repentance toward and faith in Jesus, their Messiah. If one insists on reading baptismal regeneration into this text, making baptism a requirement for salvation, he somehow has to explain the many Scriptures which make forgiveness of sin and salvation in general, dependent on nothing but faith in Christ (e.g. Luke 24:47; John 1:11-13; 3:15, 16, 18, 36; 5:25; 6:29, 35, 40, 47; 7:38, 39; 11:25-27; 12:36, 46; 16:27; 17:8, 20; 20:30-31; Acts 10:43; 13:38-39; 16:31; 26:18; Rom. 1:16; 3:22, 28; 4:1-17, 24; 9:33; 10:4, 9-11; 11:6; 15:13; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 2:16; 3:6, 8-9, 22; Eph. 1:13, 19; 2:8-10; 1 Tim. 1:16; Heb. 4:3; 11:6; James 2:23; 1 Pet. 1:5; 2:6-7; 1 John 3:23; 5:1, 5, 10, 13).

Acts 10:48.

RCC: 1226 ... The apostles and their collaborators offer Baptism to anyone who believed in Jesus: Jews, the God-fearing, pagans. 27 [Cf. Acts 2:41; 8:12-13; 10:48; 16:15]. 
WordExplain: I have no argument whatever with the statement that, in the NT, Baptism is offered to anyone who believes in Jesus. That is correct. That is always the pattern in the New Testament. People believe in Jesus, and then they are baptized. Why does the Roman Catholic Church, along with several Protestant denominations, I might add, insist on baptizing infants, who cannot possibly believe? Infant baptism [1231, 1233, 1250, 1252] is an unbiblical practice. There is no Biblical support for it. And there is no intimation whatever in these passages that it is the baptism which saves people. All Christians are saved by grace through faith apart from works, including the work of baptism (Eph. 2:8-10). Baptism comes as an act of obedience after salvation.

Furthermore, one of these passages, Acts 10:48, says too much for the RC position. Unfortunately, the Catechism here does the reader a disservice because it does not include the context. Peter has come to the home of Cornelius, the devout, but as yet, not Christian centurion (Acts 10:23-29). Cornelius explained he had been told to send for Peter (Acts 10:30-33). Peter then begins to preach a message to the entire group of people assembled in Cornelius' home (Acts 10:34-43). He speaks about Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah. He gives them a Gospel message. He reaches his "punch-line" in Act 10:43, stating that all who believe in Jesus receive forgiveness of sins. (Incidentally, he says nothing about baptism as requirement for forgiveness.)

Obviously, the gathered crowd, at that instant, individually and corporately placed their faith in Jesus. How do we know? Because we are told that the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the message (Acts 10:44). They had not yet been baptized in water, but they had already been baptized with the Holy Spirit! In other words, they were saved and forgiven and indwelt by the Holy Spirit before they had ever been baptized with water. This flatly contradicts the RC belief that it is water baptism that regenerates believers. It does not. They are regenerated by the Holy Spirit on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ before they have ever been baptized. Baptism is a sign of salvation, not the cause of it.

Acts 16:31-33

RCC: 1226 ... Always, Baptism is seen as connected with faith: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household," St. Paul declared to his jailer in Philippi. And the narrative continues, the jailer "was baptized at once, with all his family."28 [Acts 16:31-33]

WordExplain: I have no quarrel with the statement that "baptism is seen as connected with faith." But the pattern of the NT is that individuals believed first, and then they were baptized in water.  When the Philippian jailer, in shock and amazement, asked Paul and Silas, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:29-30), they responded, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31). Luke recorded, "And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house" (Acts 16:32). Obviously it was important to Paul and Silas to provide theological and biblical content to the jailer and his household so that they could believe with understanding. Everyone in the household believed in Jesus (Acts 16:34) and he and all of his were baptized (Acts 16:33).

It is worth noting that, when asked the way of salvation, Paul replied to the jailer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31). Salvation is based on believing. Baptism is the prescribed mechanism for a believer to express publicly his faith in Jesus.

1 Peter 3:20-21.
Here is a literal translation: "to the ones having disobeyed when, at a certain time, the long-suffering nature of God was waiting expectantly in the days of Noah the ark was being constructed, in which a few, that is, eight souls were rescued through water; which also, as an antitype now, baptism saves you – not the removal of the flesh with its filth, but the question of a good conscience before God – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ ...."

RCC: Bryan Cross, in an article entitled, "The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration," comments on 1 Peter 3:20-21. Here is his paragraph explaining the significance of a "good conscience." He quotes extensively, if not verbatim, from the Catechism of the Church. Here is his explanation.

Why does baptism give us a good conscience? Because in baptism all our sins are forgiven, and we are raised to new Life in Christ. The wood, the water, and the dove show the relation of the cross, the water, and the Spirit in baptism. Similarly, the crossing of the Red Sea also is a type of baptism, wherein our enemy (sin) is drowned and we pass into new life. Also, the bitter water that was sweetened by the wood at Marah is a type of baptism: the wood is the cross that brings the power of the Spirit to the water to give us life. The story of Naaman the Syrian is also a type of baptism. The seven dippings prefigure the seven sacraments, of which baptism is the gate. Naaman is cleansed not by water alone, for he had water in his own land. He is cleansed by the combination of the water and the word.

WordExplain: Unfortunately for Mr. Cross and the Church, the one thing he claims of water baptism in his explanation of 1 Pet. 3:20-21 
– that it causes our sins to be forgiven, is not supported by this passage. In fact, that is the very conclusion Peter warns us not to make. There is a sense in which baptism saves us, according to Peter, but it is not the removal of the filth of the flesh (1 Peter 3:21).

Some translations inaccurately translate this phrase as "the dirt of the body." I assure you, Peter knew the difference between body (sōma, 4983) and flesh (sárx, 4561). These translations make it sound as though Peter was disputing the notion that baptism washes away the dirt from one's body. Can anyone in his right mind think that Peter thought that someone reading his letter would think that the value of baptism was that it cleaned up the skin of one's body? No one thinks that baptism is merely like taking a bath or a shower. Peter used the word flesh
(sárx, 4561), not body (sōma, 4983). And by "flesh" he meant the natural, sensual nature of man which is addicted to sin and in opposition to the Spirit (1 Pet. 1:24; 4:2; 2 Pet. 2:10, 18; cf. Rom. 7:5, 18, 25). So what Peter was warning us not to do is this: Do not think that water baptism can in any way clean up the filth or sin of your corrupted flesh. It cannot and does not do that.

So in what way does water baptism save us? It saves us in the sense that it gives believers in Jesus who have been baptized a clear conscience in affirming our faith in Jesus, and in obeying Him in the waters of baptism (Matt. 28:18-20).

Romans 6:3-4

RCC: Here is Paragraph 1227 in the Catholic Catechism: 1227 According to the Apostle Paul, the believer enters through Baptism into communion with Christ's death, is buried with him, and rises with him:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.29 [Rom. 6:3-4; cf. Col. 2:12]

The baptized have "put on Christ."30 [Gal. 3:27] Through the Holy Spirit, Baptism is a bath that purifies, justifies, and sanctifies.31 CE 1 Cor. 6:11; 12:13

WordExplain: The presumption of most commentators is that the Greek words Paul used here "baptized" (baptízō, 907) (Rom. 6:3) and "baptism" (báptisma, 908) (Rom. 6:4) refer solely to water baptism. I believe that the primary reference here is to Spirit baptism and what it accomplishes. Spirit baptism is, of course, symbolized by water baptism. But water baptism is merely a ritual baptism that stands for something. Spirit baptism is a real baptism, and only Spirit baptism can accomplish that of which Paul writes here. Let me give the reader some reasons why I believe this to be true.

(1) There are multiple baptisms in the New Testament. It is simplistic to affirm that every time the word "baptize" or "baptism" is used, it automatically means Christian water baptism.

(a) John's Baptism using water. John the Baptist baptized with water to signify repentance (Matt. 3:1-2, 6, 8, 11; Acts 1:4). He was attempting to prepare the people of Israel for "the kingdom of the heavens," which had drawn near to them spatially and chronologically in the person of the King (Matt. 3:1-2). It is well worth noting that there was nothing "magical" about John's baptism. By that I mean his baptism could not make adherents repentant. It could only symbolize their repentance. That is why John grew so angry with the Pharisees and Sadducees who were coming to be baptized, apparently only for the sake of appearance. He called them a brood of vipers, and warned them to exhibit fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:7-10).

(b) Jesus' Baptism using the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist was careful to maintain that he was an inferior baptizer in comparison to the mightier One coming after him. John merely used the agent of water signifying repentance (Matt. 3:11). The mightier One coming after him would baptize Israel with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11). This Baptism with the Spirit would actually accomplish something, not merely signify something. This Baptism with the Spirit would actually save people. These saved people would be like wheat, which Jesus, the mightier One, would gather into the barn for safe-keeping (Matt. 3:12). We are told more about Jesus baptism using the Holy Spirit in Luke 3:16-17; John 1:33; Acts 1:4, 7-8; 2:1-4, 16-21; 10:44-47; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. Jesus' Baptism using the Holy Spirit is that act whereby Jesus uses the Holy Spirit to baptize believers in Jesus into the Body of Christ, the Universal Church that transcends all geography and all human delineations. The Church began on the Day of Pentecost and will be completed at the Rapture. The Church will exist throughout eternity as the Bride of Christ (Rev. 19:7-9). Her future home is New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2, 9-10).

(c) Jesus' Baptism using Fire. Again, John the Baptist predicted that the One coming after him, the Mightier One, would not only baptize with the Holy Spirit, a real baptism, but He would also baptize with Fire, also a real baptism. Jesus, of whom John spoke, would be the Judge of all. His "winnowing fork" He will hold in His hand, and "He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor" (Matt. 3:11-12). The awesome final results of Jesus' using the Holy Spirit and His baptism using Fire will be that "He will gather His wheat into the barn (Baptism by the Spirit), but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Baptism by Fire) (Matt. 3:12). The terrible result of the latter Baptism is that the unbelievers, those whose names are not written in the Lamb's Book of Life, will burn forever in the Lake of Fire and Brimstone (Rev. 20:11-15).

(d) The sons of Israel were baptized into Moses. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "For I do not wish you to be ignorant, brothers, that our fathers were all underneath the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all into Moses were baptized in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor. 10:1-2, author's translation). This baptism is instructive on two counts: First, it highlights the primary significance of baptism – that of "identification with." In their horrifying experience at the Red Sea, confronted by the deadly Egyptian army on one side, mountains on the other, and an unfordable sea on the final side, they were expecting certain death. But God opened up a way, and they were solidly identified with Moses in that harrowing experience. Second, this account highlights that water need not be present in a baptism. The experience is that, apart from the application of any water to their bodies, the sons of Israel were baptized into Moses. In fact, if one wants to be a little glib, the only ones who were baptized in water at the Red Sea were the corpses of the Egyptians! And, I might add, it did them little good!

This important passage illustrates that there is something more important than water that goes on in baptism. The water, to be sure, signifies something, but it does not accomplish anything. The primary significance of baptism is "identification with." Only real baptisms accomplish something. John's baptism identified the people of Israel with John as a prophet and and with his message of repentance preparatory to participating in the kingdom of the heavens. But John's baptism could not make people repentant. Neither can Christian baptism make people Christians. It can identify people with Jesus the Messiah, but it cannot make them Christians.

(e) Christian Baptism. Jesus commanded that, upon His departure, His eleven disciples, or learners (mathêtês, 3101), as they were going, were to "make learners (math
êteúō, 3100) of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all things whatever I commanded to you; and look, I, even I am with you all the days unto the completion of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20, author's translation). Without a doubt, this was water baptism, and it was to be a sign that people were disciples (learners) of Jesus. Jesus' eleven disciples (learners) obeyed. On the day of Pentecost about 3,000 received  Peter's word and repented of their having killed their Messiah. Having learned who Jesus really was, and wishing to identify themselves as publicly as learners of Jesus, they immediately received baptism in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:36-41).

(f) Implied Proselyte Baptism.Water baptism was nothing new to Israelis from all over the Mediterranean. They were all familiar with proselyte baptism, whereby Gentiles publicly identified themselves with the people of Israel and with Judaism in ritual immersion. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Ethiopian Eunuch acted as he did upon hearing the message about Jesus. He was evidently already a Gentile proselyte to Judaism. We can deduce this because he had traveled all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem in order to worship. Moreover, he was devout enough to be diligently studying the scroll of the prophet Isaiah when he was accosted by Philip, the Evangelist. Having heard a detailed explanation about Jesus the Messiah from Philip, and seeing some water, he immediately said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" (Acts 8:26-36). Acts 8:37 is not in the earliest manuscripts, but at least it shows what the early church believed about the importance of a profession of faith prior to being baptized. [See the NetBible note at Acts 8:37.] Immediately Philip baptized the new convert (Acts 8:38-39). The reason the Eunuch suggested baptism is apparently because he had already been baptized as a convert to Judaism and was quite familiar with the necessity of and importance of the rite. Obviously, he already believed in Jesus when he requested baptism.

John 19:34.

In the New Testament, we see baptism revealed in John 19:34, where water and blood pour from Christ’s side. From this water and blood that proceeds from the side of Christ, Christ’s bride is made. This is why Jesus says:

The Stance of the Roman Catholic Church toward Those Who Disagree with Its Stance on Baptism

Council of Trent, Seventh Session, Canons on Baptism

CANON III.-If any one saith, that in the Roman church, which is the mother and mistress of all churches, there is not the true doctrine concerning the sacrament of baptism; let him be anathema.

WordExplain: I reject that the Roman church is the mother and mistress of all churches, and I assert that the Roman church teaches false doctrine concerning the sacrament of baptism. Therefore I accept that the Roman church considers me anathematized, separated from Body of Christ, which RC considers to be the visible RC Church.

CANON V.-If any one saith, that baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation; let him be anathema.

WordExplain: I assert that water baptism is not necessary for salvation. It is necessary for obedience, but contributes absolutely nothing to salvation. Therefore I accept that the Roman church considers me anathematized, separated from Body of Christ, which RC considers to be the visible RC Church.

CANON XIII.-If any one saith, that little children, for that they have not actual faith, are not, after having received baptism, to be reckoned amongst the faithful; and that, for this cause, they are to be rebaptized when they have attained to years of discretion; or, that it is better that the baptism of such be omitted, than that, while not believing by their own act, they should be baptized in the faith alone of the Church; let him be anathema.

WordExplain: I assert that infant baptism is invalid baptism because the NT example is uniformly baptism following faith. There are no examples whatever in the NT for infant baptism. Therefore the RCC is illegitimate in its claim of the authenticity and necessity of infant baptism. Therefore I accept that the Roman church considers me anathematized, separated from Body of Christ, which RC considers to be the visible RC Church.

This article is incomplete, and is in progress.

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First Published October 4, 2015

Last updated March 21, 2020