As with any single verse or passage, we discern what it teaches through careful  consideration of the language and context of the verse. We also filter it  through what we know the Bible teaches elsewhere on the subject. In the case of  baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through  faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9). So,  any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act,  is necessary for salvation is a faulty interpretation. For more information,  please visit our webpage “Is salvation by  faith alone, or by faith plus works?”

Regarding Mark 16:16, it is important to remember that there are  some textual problems with Mark chapter 16, verses 9-20. There is some question  as to whether these verses were originally part of the Gospel of Mark or whether  they were added later by a scribe. As a result, it is best not to base a key  doctrine on anything from Mark  16:9-20, such as snake handling, unless it  is also supported by other passages of Scripture.

Assuming that verse 16  is original to Mark, does it teach that baptism is required for salvation? The  short answer is, no, it does not. In order to make it teach that baptism is  required for salvation, one must go beyond what the verse actually says. What  this verse does teach is that belief is necessary for salvation, which is  consistent with the countless verses where only belief is mentioned  (e.g., John 3:18; John 5:24; John 12:44; John 20:311 John  5:13).

“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who  does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).  This verse is composed of two basic statements. 1—He who believes and is  baptized will be saved. 2—He who does not believe will be condemned.

While this verse tells us something about believers who have been baptized  (they are saved), it does not say anything about believers who have not been baptized. In order for this verse to teach that baptism is necessary for  salvation, a third statement would be necessary, viz., “He who believes and is  not baptized will be condemned” or “He who is not baptized will be condemned.”  But, of course, neither of these statements is found in the verse.

Those  who try to use Mark 16:16 to  teach that baptism is necessary for salvation commit a common but serious  mistake that is sometimes called the Negative Inference Fallacy. This is the  rule to follow: “If a statement is true, we cannot assume that all negations (or  opposites) of that statement are also true.” For example, the statement “a dog  with brown spots is an animal” is true; however, the negative, “if a dog does  not have brown spots, it is not an animal” is false. In the same way, “he who  believes and is baptized will be saved” is true; however, the statement “he who  believes but is not baptized will not be saved” is an unwarranted assumption.  Yet this is exactly the assumption made by those who support baptismal  regeneration.

Consider this example: “Whoever believes and lives in  Kansas will be saved, but those that do not believe are condemned.” This  statement is strictly true; Kansans who believe in Jesus will be saved. However,  to say that only those believers who live in Kansas are saved is an  illogical and false assumption. The statement does not say a believer  must live in Kansas in order to go to heaven. Similarly, Mark 16:16 does not say a believer must be  baptized. The verse states a fact about baptized believers (they will be saved),  but it says exactly nothing about believers who have not been baptized. There  may be believers who do not dwell in Kansas, yet they are still saved; and there  may be believers who have not been baptized, yet they, too, are still  saved.

The one specific condition required for salvation is stated in  the second part of Mark 16:16:  “Whoever does not believe will be condemned.” In essence, Jesus has given both  the positive condition of belief (whoever believes will be saved) and the  negative condition of unbelief (whoever does not believe will be condemned).  Therefore, we can say with absolute certainty that belief is the  requirement for salvation. More importantly, we see this condition restated  positively and negatively throughout Scripture (John 3:16; John 3:18; John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:53-54; John 8:24; Acts  16:31).

Jesus mentions a condition related to salvation  (baptism) in Mark 16:16.  But a related condition should not be confused with a requirement. For example,  having a fever is related to being ill, but a fever is not  required for illness to be present. Nowhere in the Bible do we find a  statement such as “whoever is not baptized will be condemned.” Therefore, we  cannot say that baptism is necessary for salvation based on Mark 16:16 or any other verse.

Does Mark 16:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?  No, it does not. It clearly establishes that belief is required for salvation,  but it does not prove or disprove the idea of baptism being a requirement. How  can we know, then, if one must be baptized in order to be saved? We must look to  the full counsel of God’s Word. Here is a summary of the evidence:

1—The  Bible is clear that we are saved by faith alone. Abraham was saved by faith, and  we are saved by faith (Romans  4:1-25; Galatians  3:6-22).

2—Throughout the Bible, in every dispensation, people have  been saved without being baptized. Every believer in the Old Testament (e.g.,  Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon) was saved but not baptized. The thief on the  cross was saved but not baptized. Cornelius was saved before he was baptized (Acts 10:44-46).

3—Baptism is a testimony of our faith and a public declaration that we believe  in Jesus Christ. The Scriptures tell us that we have eternal life the moment we  believe (John 5:24),  and belief always comes before being baptized. Baptism does not save us any more  than walking an aisle or saying a prayer saves us. We are saved when we  believe.

4—The Bible never says that if one is not baptized then he is  not saved.

5—If baptism were required for salvation, then no one could  be saved without another party being present. Someone must be there to baptize a  person before he can be saved. This effectively limits who can be saved and when  he can be saved. The consequences of this doctrine, when carried to a logical  conclusion, are devastating. For example, a soldier who believes on the  battlefield but is killed before he can be baptized would go to hell.

6—Throughout the Bible we see that at the point of faith a believer possesses  all the promises and blessings of salvation (John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 20:31; Acts 10:43; 13:39; 16:31). When one believes, he  has eternal life, does not come under judgment, and has passed from death into  life (John 5:24)—all  before he or she is baptized.

If you believe in baptismal regeneration,  you would do well to prayerfully consider whom or what you are really putting  your trust in. Is your faith in a physical act (being baptized) or in the  finished work of Christ on the cross? Whom or what are you trusting for  salvation? Is it the shadow (baptism) or the substance (Jesus Christ)? Our faith  must rest in Christ alone. “We have redemption through His blood, the  forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).