The Saare-Turner Debate

Part One

Proposition: “The New Testament Scriptures teach that, for the penitent believer, water baptism is for, unto, or in order to the remission of sins.” Allan Turner affirms; Keith Saare denies.

Turner’s First Affirmative (posted 06/17/06): The proposition is clear and understandable, so let me get right to the point. In Mark 16:15-16, the Scriptures say:

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (unless otherwise noted, I’ll be quoting from the NKJV).

In the risen Lord’s charge to His apostles, commonly referred to as the “Great Commission,” He instructs them to preach the gospel to the whole creation. He says that those who respond by believing and being baptized will be saved. So, who is it who “will be saved”? “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” The Lord makes it clear that being saved has two qualifications: believing and being baptized. He did not say, “He who believes will be saved.” Nor did He say, “He who is baptized will be saved.” What He said is, “He who believes [one qualification] and is baptized [a second qualification] will be saved.” What is hard to understand about this? That the Lord combines faith and baptism as the means of obtaining salvation is unquestionable. Therefore, neither faith alone nor baptism alone is the means to being saved.

But some have tried to nullify the force of Mark 16:16 by claiming that some of the oldest manuscripts omit verses 9 through 20, thereby casting doubt on the integrity of these verses. However, even if such an argument could be sustained, and I’m not saying it can be (I’m referring now to the integrity issue, not to their omission in some of the earlier manuscripts, which is true), there is still Matthew 28:18-20, which none are questioning. This passage says:

Then Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The main imperative of the Lord’s command to “Go...and make disciples of all the nations...” is “make disciples” (which in the Greek is matheteuo), i.e., a learner, a pupil, a follower; one who looks to Jesus as his teacher and guide (cf. Jn. 20:30-31). “Baptizing” and “teaching” are participles that are dependent on the action of the verb “make disciples”—namely, they explain how disciples are made, for as I am sure my opponent knows, the active participle in connection with an imperative either declares the manner in which the imperative is to be obeyed, or explains the meaning of the command itself. The “them” in this passage (the Greek autous) is in the masculine gender and cannot have for its antecedent “nations” (ethna), because it is in the neuter gender. Hence, only those of the nations who are made disciples by obeying the gospel preached to them are to be baptized.

Contrary to what some think, “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is not a baptismal formula (cf. Acts 2:38;8:36-38), but a statement about baptism’s goal—namely, to put one into a relationship with the Godhead. To be baptized “into” (eis) their “name” speaks of a commitment to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It signals one has passed into a communion with God—a relationship in which all spiritual blessing are found (cf. Eph. 1:3-12). Baptism, then, brings us into salvation with all its attendant blessings.

Consequently, it ought not to sound strange to our ears when we hear the apostle Peter, on that first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension into heaven, inform his hearers that the baptism that is in the “name” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that Jesus spoke of is nothing other than baptism by the authority of Christ “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Some wrongly want to argue that the baptism mentioned here is not water baptism at all. However, to simply make the claim without offering any convincing proof is useless. On the other hand, I will acknowledge that it is, in deed, necessary for the baptism mentioned in these passages to be water baptism if the proposition I am affirming is to be sustained. So let me answer this here at the beginning of this study.

The Various Baptisms Mentioned In The Bible

There are at least six baptisms mentioned in the Scriptures:

  1. The baptism of Moses (Israel)—1 Cor. 10:1-2.
  2. The baptism of John, a baptism in water—Mk. 1:4-5.
  3. The baptism of the Holy Spirit—Mt. 3:11; Lk. 3:16; Acts 1:5; 2:1-4; 10:44,45; 11:15-16.
  4. The baptism of fire (judgment)—Mt. 3:11; Lk. 3:16,17.
  5. The baptism of suffering (persecution)—Mt. 20:20-33; Lk. 12:50.
  6. The baptism of the Great Commission, which was a baptism in water—Mt. 28:19; Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 8:12-13,35-38; 10:47-48; 22:16.

By A.D. 62, Only One Baptism Remained To Be Obeyed

Even so, in describing the unity of the Spirit that ought to prevail among God’s people in about A.D. 62, Paul taught there was only “one baptism” that remained to be obeyed (cf. Eph. 4:3-7). But to which of the six was Paul referring? I believe we can safely rule out all but two, which means it boils down to this: The one baptism of Ephesians 4:5 is either the baptism of the Holy Spirit or the baptism of the Great Commission. However, there is, I think, a connection between the Holy Spirit and the baptism of the Great Commission, with the result being there is but “one baptism” remaining to be obeyed, as Paul taught, but with two elements—namely, water and the Spirit. It is this interpretation I’ll be defending in this debate.

This means I believe the “one baptism” of which Paul was referring in Ephesians 4:5 is the baptism of the Great Commission and is the same one the Lord was referring to when He spoke with Nicodemus in John 3:3-21. There Jesus taught that unless one is “born again” he cannot see the kingdom of God. Perplexed, Nicodemus asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter again into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Therefore, the new birth or born again experience of which Jesus referred involved both water and the Spirit. Hence, if Jesus is here referring to baptism, and I hope to demonstrate that He was, then being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit involved not just the water of baptism but the Holy Spirit, as well.

With this in mind, it is important to remember that Holy Spirit baptism, as it is sometimes called, was a promise to be received and not a command to be obeyed. This promise involved God pouring out His Spirit on all mankind, both Jew and Gentile (cf. Joel 2:28a). The Lord spoke about this to His apostles on several occasions (cf. John 14 and 16) before He told them specifically “for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). This was fulfilled several days later on that day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2. But the apostles who had now been baptized with the Holy Spirit commanded those who heard them on that day, and subsequently, to repent and be baptized “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). As a result, and in addition to being saved (viz., having their sins remitted), they would receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” I believe this “gift,” as articulated here, was to be the actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit Himself within the body of each and every Christian (cf. Acts 5:32; 1 Cor. 6:19; Rom. 8:9-11; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13; 4:30).

A similar event took place years later when God made it clear that Gentiles were to be saved by the same process the Jews were (cf. Acts 10:44-46 and 11:15-18). I’ll have more to say about this shortly, but suffice it to say that when God poured out His Spirit on Cornelius and his household, He had kept His promise to pour out His Spirit on “all flesh,” i.e., on both Jew and Gentile alike.

But that the Great Commission baptism that all were expected to obey was water baptism is borne out not just by what Jesus said in John 3, but by what the Ethiopian eunuch exclaimed after having the gospel preached to Him by Philip in Acts 8. According to Acts 8:36b, the eunuch said: “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” When one reads this whole account as it unfolds, there is absolutely no reason to doubt that the gospel Philip preached to the eunuch was nothing other than the one Peter and the rest of the apostles had preached before him—namely, that one needed to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ “for the remission of sins.” If Scripture remains the best interpreter of Scripture, and I maintain it is, then water baptism in the name of Jesus “for the remission of sins” was, in fact, the baptism of the Great Commission and was, therefore, the baptism universally commanded of every amenable creature under heaven.

The Bringing In Of The Gentiles

Further, that water baptism was commanded by Peter when he taught Cornelius and his household the gospel cannot be denied (cf. Acts 10:47-48). One may want to argue that these Gentiles were already saved prior to this, but this same Peter had preached from the beginning that baptism was “for the remission of sins,” and I just don't see how anyone can effectively argue that one can be already saved before his sins are remitted.

For sure, Cornelius and his household were already believers when they were commanded to be baptized. And, yes, God had even poured out His Spirit—this, I think, would be the baptism of the Holy Spirit—on these Gentiles, just as He had done on the apostles (viz., Jews) in “the beginning” (Acts 11:15). Even so, if water baptism is for the remission of sins, and the Bible says it is, then they had not yet had their sins remitted and were, therefore, not yet saved. But they were soon going to be. When they obeyed Peter’s command to be baptized for the remission of their sins, they would be saved. If not, why not?

Furthermore, so unequivocal had been God’s demonstration that the Gentiles were also to be saved by obeying the gospel, none of the Jews who had witnessed what had happened to Cornelius and his household—mainly, God pouring out His Spirit on these Gentiles like He had the Jews at the beginning—were of the disposition to “forbid water.” And what water was this? Clearly, it was water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ “for the remission of sins.” Again, if not, why not?

Consequently, when these Gentiles obeyed Peter’s command to be baptized in the name of the Lord, we have every reason to believe they received the remissions of their sins—that is, they were saved. If this is not true, then my opponent will need to demonstrate from the New Testament Scriptures why it isn’t. To argue that they had already believed and were therefore saved would be to argue that which must be proven. In other words, to simply make the claim is not enough. I expect to hear an attempt from my opponent to provide book, chapter, and verse for what he is teaching. And if not, he ought to surrender his position.

Returning now to the accounts of the Great Commission recorded by Mark and Matthew, although it is a fact that baptism is mentioned by both writers, with faith being either stated or implied, as well, neither account mentions repentance. Even so, the proposition I am affirming mentions a “penitent believer,” which simply means a believer who has repented. In Acts 2:38, where Peter said, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” it is clear that repentance is also necessary for one to obtain the remission of sins. This truth is further stated by the apostle Paul when he told the Athenians, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). What this means is this: one is saved by grace through faith all right (cf. Eph. 2:8-9), but one is not saved by faith alone, repentance alone, baptism alone, or anything else alone. In fact, the faith that saves, according to New Testament Scriptures, emphatically does not stand alone (cf. Jas. 2:14-26).

“In Order To” Vs. “Because Of”

It should be obvious that for those who do not believe that baptism is for or in order to the remission of sins, Acts 2:38 has always been a very difficult passage to deal with. It has, in fact, “stuck in the craw” of many a debater who takes my opponent’s position. How he will deal with it, I'll just have to wait and see. But perhaps he will claim, as some have done, that the passage is “really his after all.” What do I mean by this? Well, some have argued that the Greek preposition eis, which is translated “for” in the King James Version, should actually be translated “because of.” They claim the verse should read, “...Repent, and be baptized...because of the remission of sins....” In other words, they argue that this passage teaches that one ought to repent and be baptized because one has already received the remission of sins when he repented/believed. They attempt to bolster this rendering by pointing out that the English preposition “for” sometimes means “because of.” Yes, this is true, but what does this have to do with the Greek preposition eis, which the majority of Greek scholars do not believe should be translated “because of”? If there are a few who do, then I’m sure my opponent will mention them. We’ll just have to wait to hear what he says about this. However, I will have no problem listing, and I’ll do so if necessary, several influential Baptist scholars who, because they are in fact such good scholars, totally reject the “because of” argument.

Happily, “For The Remission Of Sins” Has Been Unquestionably Fixed

Even so, any such novel interpretation that my opponent might wish to employ will simply not “hold water.” In fact, all such efforts have proven to “leak like a sieve,” for in Acts 2:38 we find not just the preposition eis, but the entire prepositional phrase eis aphesin hamartion, which has been rendered “for the remission of sins” by the translators. Happily, the Holy Spirit has unquestionably fixed the use of the preposition by using it in a passage in which its meaning cannot be doubted. In Matthew 26:28, Jesus made the statement, “For this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins [emphasis mine—AT].” This is the exact same Greek prepositional phrase that is used in Acts 2:38. Therefore, those who support the “because of” argument in Acts 2:38 would, in order to be consistent, have to make Matthew 26:28 to be saying that Jesus shed His blood “because of” the remission of sins, which would, in turn, have the Lord saying His blood was to be shed for something already accomplished. Who can believe it? Was the Lord’s blood shed “for,” “unto,” “for the purpose of,” and “in order to” the remission of sins; or was it shed because the remission of sins had already occurred? If it was shed “for,” “unto,” “for the purpose of,” or “in order to” the remission of sins, as Matthew 26:28 clearly teaches, then what justification will my opponent give for translating the same Greek prepositional phrase as “because of” in Acts 2:38? As I see it, his only justification for doing so will be his defense of a doctrine that is not taught in God’s word. I’ll have to await his response, of course, but I am most curious to read what he has to say in defense of a supposed Biblical doctrine that is Scripturally indefensible.

Is There Some Kind Of Contradiction, Then?

If baptism is “for,” “unto,” or “in order to” the same thing Jesus’ blood was shed “for,” “unto,” or “in order to,” does this mean there is some kind of contradiction here? No, for it is clear that the Bible cannot contradict itself and still claim to be God’s word. Even though some seem to think that Acts 2:38 and Matthew 26:28, as written, are contradictory by claiming two different things effect the remission of sins, the truth is there is no contradiction at all. Just as the Bible teaches there can be no remission of sins without Christ’s blood, for Christ’s blood was shed for the remission of sins, it just as clearly teaches there can be no remission of sins without baptism. Thus, the only necessary conclusion is there is some kind of relationship between Christ’s blood and baptism.

Water Baptism And The Blood Of Christ

This is further explained by the apostle Paul in Romans 6. There he said that as many as had been baptized into Christ were baptized “into His death.” Of course, the Messiah shed His blood in His death and we, by faith, are baptized “into His death” (Rom. 6:3). Could it be any more simple? Could we not all see this if we really wanted to?

The Connection Is Clear

Blood shed for the remission of sins (Mt. 26:28). Baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).
Blood cleanses from sin (1 Jn. 1:7). Baptism washes away sin (Acts 22:16).
Blood redeems or saves (Col. 1:14). Baptism redeems or saves (1 Pet. 3:21).

“These Three Agree As One”

The Holy Spirit bears witness that Jesus Christ shed His blood “for the remission of sins.” He also bears witness that water baptism is “for the remission of sins.” Romans 6:3 makes it clear that those of us who “were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.” Therefore, it should not surprise anyone to hear the New Testament Scriptures say, “There are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one” (1 John 5:8, emphasis mine—AT). If this agreement is not in the watery grave of baptism, then where? In truth, those who are led by the Holy Spirit of God are commanded to be baptized into Jesus Christ and, therefore, into His gracious death, which is the precise place where and time when He shed His precious blood. This totally transparent truth ought to be crystal clear to all Bible believers.

Water Baptism Does Not Denigrate Jesus’ Blood

Although those who believe water baptism is not necessary for the remission of sins often teach that an emphasis on water somehow denigrates or makes worthless the blood of Christ, they are Scripturally incorrect. They do so, of course, for various reasons, but it is certain that all who do so fail to appreciate the Scriptural connection between the Spirit, the water, and the blood.

But for those of us who do see the connection and have, in turn, obeyed from the heart that “form of doctrine” which had been preached to us (cf. Rom. 6:17), it can be said that “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). The penitent believer who is “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” is promised nothing less than the gift of the Holy Spirit Himself (cf. Acts 2:38). How truly wonderful it is to “drink into” (viz., to be nourished and sustained by) this one Spirit.

So, for anyone who understands the place assigned to baptism in the plan of salvation, a conflict between baptism as a condition of pardon and the cleansing by the blood of Christ is inconceivable. Baptism is the way God has appointed by which a person is to seek the cleansing by the blood. This is the place of baptism in God’s grand scheme of redemption. The person who submits to baptism according to the Scriptures is the person who is relying upon the blood of Christ for his pardon, and it is, therefore, patently absurd for anyone to charge such with denigrating or, in any way, demeaning the blood of Christ.

The Case Of Saul Of Tarsus

With this in mind, it is time to look at the case of Saul of Tarsus. While a persecutor of the church, he encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 9). As one reads this account, one cannot misunderstand that Saul became a penitent believer that day. My opponent, by the nature of his position in this debate, will have to argue that Saul was also saved that day. But the Scriptures say nothing of the sort. In fact, Saul was not baptized until several days later. But if he was, in fact, saved on the road to Damascus, then he had already received the remission of sins prior to his baptism. This means that the case of Saul of Tarsus provides a good test of the truth being disputed in this debate.

So what happened? Well, according to the apostle Paul, as he later recounted the story of his conversion to those in Jerusalem, an account that is recorded in Acts 22:

Then one, Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, came to me; and he stood and said to me, “Brother Saul, receive your sight.” And at that same hour I looked up at him. Then he said, “The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (vv. 12-16).

If Saul were already saved, as my opponent must argue, then why did Ananias tell him to “arise and be baptized, and wash away [his] sins, calling on the name of the Lord”? Was Ananias, who was directly commissioned by the Lord Himself, wrong about the purpose of baptism? Was Saul, who at the time he said this was now the great apostle Paul, teaching error on this subject when addressing the Jerusalem mob? No, of course not. In fact, the apostle Paul taught the very same thing about baptism that the apostle Peter had at the very beginning of the church (cf. Acts 2:38). Remember, Peter, in a general epistle to all Christians, wrote, “There is an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21). That this baptism involved water cannot be denied from the context.

The Antitype, Baptism, Now Saves Us

It is clear that Peter and Paul both thought baptism was commanded “for,” “unto,” or “in order to” the remission of sins, and that when one obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine that was being taught by these two apostles, they were, by faith, “calling upon the name of the Lord,” to use Paul’s expression or, as Peter taught, engaged in the “answer of a good conscience toward God.” It is interesting to note that the Greek word translated “answer” in 1 Peter 3:21 is eperotema. It means, according to Thayer, an “earnest seeking, i.e., a craving, an intense desire” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1889, Reprint, p. 280). In other words, the individual, in order to render his conscience clear in relation to his sins, obeys the command to be baptized “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38; cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16). By so submitting, his sins are remitted and his conscience is then clear “toward God” (cf. Col. 2:13). This explanation of the text fits the language, the context, the argumentation, and the corroborative Scriptures.

What this means is this: for the one who comes to the watery grave of baptism, having believed in Christ and having turned away from his sins toward God through repentance, baptism becomes the point of contact for his new life in Christ. Baptized into Christ (cf. Gal. 3:27 and Rom. 6:3) via the watery grave of baptism, one is baptized into the Lord’s death where He shed His blood. Consequently, the penitent believer who is baptized both into Christ and into His death, touches or accesses, by faith, the blood of the risen Jesus. This blood, which was shed for the remission of sins (cf. Matt. 26:28), cleanses the penitent believer of his transgressions (cf. 1 Jn. 1:7). Thus, the watery grave of baptism is referred to as the washing away or cleansing of one’s sins (cf. Acts 22:16). In other words, it is “the washing of water by the word” of which Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:26. My opponent will have to argue that all this is simply not so, but he is wrong. And how do I know?: “The Bible tells me so.”

Keith Saare has two weeks to post his response. As soon as he does, a link to it will be posted here.

Saare’s First Negative

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