Baptism Is For Salvation, Not Symbolism

Baptism Is For Salvation, Not Symbolism

Born Again

How does Jesus define “born again”? 

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water [Baptism] and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” ~ John 3:3-5

Catholicism Affirms The Physical

Water is physical. It is matter. It is not emotion. It is not intellectual understanding. The idea that God prescribed anything physical in the process of our salvation was offensive to my ears as an anti-Catholic. Among much of non-Catholic and non-Orthodox Christianity, the inherent physicality of the Christian Faith is scrubbed clean.

As an anti-Catholic, I denied as unreal and symbolic those sacred rites of Christianity that the Bible defines as real and physical. 

  • I denied Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, and denied that the host becomes the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. 
  • I denied Christ’s presence in the wine, and denied that the wine becomes the Real Presence of Jesus Christ.
  • I denied Christ’s edict that physical water physically touching one’s physical head in physical Baptism was part of Christ’s plan of salvation, and I replaced salvational Baptism, with symbolic Baptism.

Baptism For Salvation, Not Symbolism

Peter states that the waters of Noah’s Flood (which saved Noah and his family) were a foreshadowing of New Testament baptism.

…the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now SAVES US — baptism… ~ 1 Peter 3:20-21 [Peter writes of baptism as being salvational, not symbolic.]

antitype. /ˈæntɪˌtaɪp/ noun. … a character or event in the New Testament prefigured in the Old Testament. ~

And what does the Bible say about John the Baptist’s work?

John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of symbolic outward expression of our faith repentance for the remission of sins. ~ Mark 1:4

Repentance: Greek “metanoia” (met-an’-oy-ah); compunction (for guilt, including reformation); by implication reversal (of [another’s] decision) [Reversal of Adam’s decision to sin, the decision by which Adam imparted original sin to all humankind. Baptism reverses Adam’s decision. Adam did not merely bite the fruit “symbolically.” Adam bit the fruit physically. Neither do we reverse his decision “symbolically.” We reverse it physically.] ~ Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003

We Must Get This Right

Comparing what the Bible states, with how the earliest Christians lived out what the Bible states, I saw a terrifying chasm between how those earliest Christians interpreted the Bible, and how I interpreted the Bible as an anti-Catholic. Those earliest Christians had the priceless benefit of learning at the feet of the Apostles, or from those to whom that teaching was passed on in the infancy of Christianity.

If one could use a time machine to go back to the infancy of Christianity, one would see it to look Catholic.  

Baptism: The Bible & The Early Church Agree

The earliest Christians knew exactly what Jesus meant when he said that no one can enter the kingdom of god unless he born of water. Likewise, they knew exactly what Peter meant when he said that Baptism saves us.

But before we look at those early Christian writings, let’s remember from the Bible that the Ethiopian eunuch, after being taught the Bible by Philip, immediately asked to be baptized. Likewise, Jesus sent his disciples to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” ~ Matthew 28:19. The Bible and the early Church agree.

Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated [Regeneration, not a mere outward expression of faith.]… For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. ~ The First Apology, Chapter 61 – Christian Baptism, by Justin Martyr, written 151 A.D.   

It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [it served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated [Regeneration, not a mere outward expression of faith.] as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: Unless a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. ~ Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus, 34, by Iraneus of Lyon, written 190 A.D.

But you will perhaps say, What does the baptism of water contribute towards the worship of God? In the first place, because that which has pleased God is fulfilled. In the second place, because, when you are regenerated and born again of water and of God, the frailty of your former birth [original sin], which you have through men, is cut off, and so at length you shall be able to attain salvation; but otherwise it is impossible [Wow.]. For thus has the true prophet testified to us with an oath: ‘Verily I say to you, That unless a man is born again of water, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ …Betake yourselves therefore to these waters, for they alone can quench the violence of the future fire; and he who delays to approach to them, it is evident that the idol of unbelief remains in him, and by it he is prevented from hastening to the waters which confer salvation. …Therefore all should hasten to be born again to God without delay, because the end of every one’s life is uncertain. ~ Recognitions, Book 6, Chapter 9, by Clement of Rome, written 221 A.D.

For He [Jesus] came to save all through means of Himself— all, I say, who through Him are born again to God — infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. ~ Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 22, by Iraneus of Lyon, written 189 A.D. 

Wow, infant baptism! Is that Biblical?

Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household [which would include infants] were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us. ~ Acts 16:14-15

And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family [which would include infants] were baptized. ~ Acts 16:33

And I baptized also the household [which would include infants] of Stephanas… ~ 1 Corinthians 1:16

The Baptism - by Pietro Longhi - 1755 - Copy 1

The Baptism, by Pietro Longhi, 1755

The Bible is always proven true.

8 replies »

  1. I am so glad you addressed this, Tom! While reciting the affirmation of faith at our Catholic church for years, I’ve stopped when we reach the part that says “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” because I believed that baptism was not enough. After all, why did Jesus need to suffer and die on the cross if it was not to forgive our sins? I’ve read and heard preaching on Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus for years, but until now glossed right over the water portion. The footnotes in my Life Application Bible explain the water portion like this, “1. the contrast between physical birth (water) and spiritual birth (Spirit), or 2. being regenerated by the Spirit and signifying that rebirth by Christian baptism. The water may also represent the cleansing action of God’s Holy Spirit.” But if I’m understanding your post correctly, it sounds as though one needs both: water (baptism) and the spirit (profession of faith in Christ’s sacrifice). I have also long heard a beloved preacher on Christian radio say that “infant baptism is not Biblical.” The only place water and an infant are mentioned together is when Moses’ mother put him in a basket in the river and that was clearly not a baptism. I’ve often wondered whether I should be re-baptized as a Jesus-following adult since as a 3 month-old infant I was not choosing baptism for myself.

  2. Karen,

    As I myself grow to learn more about Catholicism, I am learning that baptism is a necessary step toward salvation. Evangelicals say that baptism is neither necessary for salvation, nor involved with salvation, and I believed this for years, but I reject this now. I believe (as I showed in my post above) that the New Testament shows Jesus and the Apostles teaching baptism as a necessary step of salvation, and the writings of the early church fathers show that this teaching was clearly passed on to them.

    This brings us to a major difference between Catholics and Evangelicals– the idea that one can lose one’s salvation. Catholics believe that although baptism is a necessary step to enter into salvation, one is free to leave whenever one wants. If you are baptized, but want to sin to your heart’s delight without repenting, you are free to do exactly that. But if you do, you have fallen from grace. That is, you are no longer saved. You are no longer cooperating with God’s grace. You must confess your sins (to a priest if they are mortal), and get right with God.

    However, Evangelicals believe in “once saved, always saved.” That is, once you have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, you’re in. You’re good to go. You don’t need baptism, and you cannot lose your salvation. This is taught regularly, and is a major part of Evangelical doctrine. It leads to a messy soup of theology where nothing matters because, after all, we’re saved and there’s nothing we can do to lose that salvation. Try having theological conversations with people who answer everything with, “brother, it doesn’t matter because it won’t cause us to lose our salvation.” It makes everything not matter. Hell, in Evangelicalism MATTER doesn’t even matter (as I showed in my post above).

    I too hear those pastors on the radio. But having been in that movement for several years, I see that the tired cliches they teach crumble like a house of cards when the slightest scrutiny is applied to them. The New Testament speaks of peoples’ entire households being baptized, and it doesn’t qualify those instances with terms like “except the infants.” The problem is that pastors who teach against infant baptism have NO CLUE that those “entire household” instances are even in the Bible. They also have no clue of the many New Testament examples of spiritual father/son relationships. All they know how to do is cite Matthew 23:9 against Catholics who call their priests “father.” This is not the “Bible-believing” movement it claims to be.

    Finally, as I understand it, the Catholic Church absolutely believes that Christ’s death and resurrection paid our sin debt in full. Baptism, confession, etc. are merely the means by which that payment is transmitted to us. The sacraments are not the “works” that Evangelicals accuse them of being. God provided the payment, and it is HE, not Evangelicals, who provided the method by which we are to claim that payment. Here’s an analogy.

    A father sends money via Western Union to his child, and tells his child that he or she MUST provide two forms of ID at Western Union to claim that money. But the child doesn’t like the fact that two forms of ID are required. “All I have to do,” says the child to himself, “is BELIEVE that my father sent the money, and I will receive it. Heck, not only do I not need two forms of ID, I don’t even need to go down to Western Union. I’m just going to BELIEVE that the money is mine, and that’s that.” The child ends up with no money because of his stubborn refusal to accept the father’s method of receiving the father’s generosity. The child in this story merely ends up broke, but real-life Evangelicals may face eternal consequences for their stubborn refusal to accept the Father’s method of receiving the Father’s generosity.


  3. Tom
    It might be a good idea for our Protestant friends if you write more about Antitypes in the Bible and how or early Church Fathers used this to seek meaning in the Bible. Our Protestant friends just look for versus in the Bible and they think they have it figured out, yet have no idea how lost they are. I know you have written much about “antitypes” like the Arc of the Covenant and Mary. Also the in the Old Testament the mother of the King was considered the Queen and second in command like in the book of Kings. This is an antitype to the Blessed Virgin Mary also being the Queen of Heaven and earth. Etc Etc. You understand what I am talking about. Out early church father taught us how to read and interpret the bible but our Protestant Friends ignore this because they think each and every single one of them can interpret the Bible in their own way. This leads to 35800 different denominations. A church made of man will not last but a church mad by God himself will never fall.


    • Great point, Efrain. The Queen Mother is a topic that has been in my mental file to write about because it stunned me when I started investigating Catholicism a year ago. Thanks to you, I will make it a point to expedite that article.

      In addition, behind the scenes I continue to read the early church fathers and will post more about them in the near future as well. One article is very near completion.

      Blessings and thank you,

      • Tom
        The word I wanted to use was not Anti type but rather typology. Figures in the old testament that pre figure people in the new testament. Like you have written before, the Ark of the Covenant is a type of Mary. The Manna bread is a type of Eucharist etc etc. Send me a private email. I want to share something with you about the 1000 year reign of Christ Kingdom and the end times. Our Protestant Friends have it all wrong and that is a danger to them and their salvation

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