Is baptism necessary for salvation according to Mark 16:16?
Mark 16:16 reads, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Some have read this verse and understood it to teach that baptism is a requirement to be saved. Is this true?
A close look at Mark 16:16 reveals that it is not connecting baptism with salvation. Rather, the verse distinguishes between belief and salvation, and lack of belief and condemnation. The first half of the verse emphasizes belief as the means of salvation. The public expression of that belief is baptism. The second half of the verse clearly notes “whoever does not believe will be condemned.” The contrast is clearly between belief and lack of belief, not between baptism and condemnation. Further, the prior verse, teaches, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” It does not teach to go into all the world and baptize the whole creation. The emphasis in the surrounding context is on preaching the gospel so others will believe in Jesus and receive salvation.
Some also argue that since the verses of Mark 16:9-20 are not in the earliest manuscripts and may not be part of the original biblical text, that Mark 16:16 should not be used as a basis for one’s teachings on salvation.
In addition, the remainder of the New Testament clearly teaches salvation is based on grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” John 1:12 adds, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” These and other passages clearly note only faith in the resurrected Jesus as Lord is required for salvation.
Another proof is the story of the thief on the cross. When he turned to Jesus in faith, Jesus answered, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). This man did not have an opportunity to be baptized, yet Jesus promised he would be in paradise (heaven) that day.
Then what is the role of baptism? Baptism has historically served as the public means of identifying one’s life as a follower of Jesus. Jesus Himself was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-10; Luke 3:21-22) and commanded His followers to baptize those who came to faith in Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). In fact, those who responded to Peter’s message when the church began on the Day of Pentecost were baptized that same day (Acts 2:41). Baptism was clearly considered important in the early church, though it was not required for salvation.
Baptism is an important act of obedience for the new believer in Jesus, but it is not part of salvation.