The Assault upon Mark 16:16

By Wayne Jackson

A group of disgruntled defectors from the faith has initiated a subversive electronic magazine mislabeled, Grace Centered Magazine. The names associated with this nefarious effort read like a “Who’s Who” of apostates within the “change agent” movement.

Recently, a writer, who chose to remain anonymous (cf. Gal. 2:4 — “false brothers secretly brought in,” ESV), published an article in GCM titled, “Are Unbaptized Believers Lost?” The first line of the piece revealed the contemptuous disposition of its clandestine author: “Can salvation be found anywhere other than the bottom of a baptistery?” The article then proceeds to regurgitate numerous sectarian quibbles against the essentiality of immersion for the remission of sins.

It is not our intention to review this elementary effort in a comprehensive fashion. We do want to note this, however. In a footnote at the end of the treatise, the mystery writer attempts to argue the notion that Mark 16:16 does not establish the necessity of baptism as a requirement leading to salvation.

Inasmuch as we published an article relating to Mark 16:16 in the print version of the Christian Courier, some two years ago (January, 2001), we have decided to reproduce that discussion here (with minor editorial adjustments). It is longer than we normally desire our Penpoints articles to be, but we felt the importance of the issue outweighed the length factor. Please study this presentation carefully.

THE SIMPLICITY OF MARK 16:16

It is a fundamental fact of Bible interpretation that those passages that are most crucial to one’s salvation are the easiest to understand. That is why Mark’s account of the “great commission” is so incredibly simple. One of the great mysteries of modern “Christendom” is why certain clergymen have so obscured this wonderful text:

“He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who disbelieves shall be condemned” (16:16).

The Authenticity of the Passage

Because Mark 16:9-20 is missing from two of the oldest Greek manuscripts, and from some of the early versions, and because of certain perceived problems in the continuity between 16:9ff and the preceding context, most textual critics today question the genuineness of this section. That is, they dispute that it was a part of Mark’s original Gospel (see Robertson, Metzger, etc.). It must be noted though, that some of these men concede that this disputed segment of the final chapter of Mark nonetheless reflects the inspired teaching of Jesus (Grassmick, 194). On the other hand, the genuineness of the text has been defended ably by some very respectable scholars (e.g., Scrivener, Burgon, McGarvey, Lenski.)

W.R. Farmer has argued that the evidence indicates that Mark was the author of 16:9-20, but that he likely penned it before the composition of the Gospel record. He feels that the disputed text was added to the end of the Gospel manuscript at a later time.

We will not consume space discussing this issue here, but we cannot resist pointing out that most of the commentators who repudiate the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel, nonetheless feel compelled to write their comments on the book all the way through verse 20!

Some just cannot figure out what to do with the text. In his debate with N.B. Hardeman (1938), Baptist protagonist Ben Bogard rejected the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20, and yet, in his encounter with Aimee McPherson (1934 — founder of the Foursquare Church), he appealed to it mightily!

The Conditions Mentioned

In Mark 16:16, two conditions of the divine plan of redemption are mentioned — belief and baptism. These are preliminary to the reception of salvation. Surely even the most amateur student can see that these items are but representative of the fuller complement of sacred requirements. There is, for example, no reference to repentance, though this change of disposition — which results in a reformation of life — clearly is requisite for redemption (Lk. 13:3,5; Acts 2:38; 17:30). Nor is the “good confession” included (cf. 1 Tim. 6:13), though it is combined with belief elsewhere (Rom. 10:9-10). It is common in the New Testament for a writer to emphasize occasionally certain conditions relating to salvation, without citing the entire catalog of requirements (cf. Jn. 3:16; Acts 17:30; 1 Pet. 3:21). How wonderful it would be if those who argue for “salvation by faith alone” could learn this simple principle.

The Order of Occurrence

It is quite important that the New Testament student recognize the order in which the divine conditions are listed in Mark 16:16 — the reason being, the biblical sequence is totally at variance with certain sectarian theories. For example:

  1. Some insist that salvation comes first, having been predetermined by God before the foundation of the world. (This is the view of Calvinism.) Baptism, then, supposedly is next (in the scheme of those who practice infant baptism), while faith develops later.
  2. Others (e.g., some of the Baptist persuasion) place the salvation after faith, yet before baptism. They allege that faith is the initial act of obedience that produces pardon. Subsequent to that, they suggest, baptism may be administered to those who choose the rite. They argue, however, that immersion is but a mere “outward sign of an inward grace,” and that the “grace” (i.e., salvation) is received at the point of faith.
  3. Catholic theology contends that baptism is administered first (to infants), which thus procures salvation (from “original sin”); faith, then, comes eventually with mental maturation.

Each of these theories is hopelessly at odds with the facts. Any attempt to scramble the listed conditions, results only in manifold confusion. The Bible does not say: “He who has been saved, eventually will believe, and may be baptized.” It does not state that “he who believes is saved, and may be baptized.” It does affirm that, “he who believes, and is baptized *shall be saved.”* That is the sacred order. The elements of the passage may not, with impunity, be rearranged.

The Grammar

In the grammar of the Greek New Testament, there are rules by which the order of events sometimes may be determined. For example, both “believeth” and “is baptized” in the Greek Testament are what grammarians call “aorist tense participles.” (A participle is a word that has the characteristics of both an adjective and a verb.) The aorist tense has to do with a specific kind of action. Though there are exceptions, the aorist participle “ordinarily” expresses action that occurs prior to that of the leading verb in a sentence (Dana, 230).

In Mark 16:16, the leading verb is “shall be saved.” The full force of the affirmation, therefore, is this: “He who, having already believed and having already been immersed, is the one who shall be saved” [emp. WJ]. Note Lenski’s clear statement: “Both acts [belief and baptism] would precede the future act sothesetai [shall be saved]” (766).

We should also note that the aorist participle, “believeth,” is constative in force, i.e., it embraces the entire life of the believer in his fidelity to Christ (Lenski, 766; cf. “lived” and “reigned” in Revelation 20:4). The person who refuses to maintain his fidelity will not be saved in the end.

Sectarian Evasion

Due to the fact that some religionists are so saturated with the notion that salvation is by “faith alone” (a doctrine alien to the New Testament, and specifically repudiated therein — see Jas. 2:24), they resort to various interpretative contortions in an effort to evade the transparent instruction of this passage. Typical of this maneuver was prominent Baptist scholar, A.T. Robertson, who, in his massive Grammar of the Greek New Testament, asserted that sometimes grammar must yield to theology (389). The practical meaning of that statement is this: Sometimes it becomes necessary to ignore what the text actually says, and in its place substitute one’s opinion! The fact is, the grammar is inspired; one’s personal theology is not!

And so, relative to Mark 16:16, Robertson, in his Word Pictures, wrote:

“The omission of baptized with ‘disbelieveth’ [16:16b] would seem to show that Jesus does not make baptism essential to salvation. Condemnation rests on disbelief, not on baptism” (1.405).

Quite frankly, that is pathetic. After introducing the person who “believes *not,”* why in the name of common sense would it be necessary for the Lord to list additional items of rebellion, in order to emphasize the unbeliever’s state of condemnation? Besides, elsewhere in the divine record Jesus did warn of the consequences of rejecting baptism. Such rejection, according to Luke’s record, is the reflection of an attitude that repudiates the very “counsel of God” (see Lk. 7:29-30).

The Terms Defined

Since this text represents such a crucial matter (the salvation of one’s soul), it is imperative that due consideration be given to the specifics mentioned. Let us, therefore, examine the key items.

Belief

In many religious systems, what one believes is relatively irrelevant. For example, in Buddhism one need not even believe in a personal God! By way of vivid contrast, Christianity is a religion grounded in history. Its validity depends upon whether or not God is real, whether or not he sent his Son, and whether or not Jesus of Nazareth is that Son.

To be a Christian one must subscribe to these historical realities (cf. Heb. 11:6; Jn. 8:24). One cannot, for instance, merely believe that Jesus was “nothing more than a perfect man,” as the Watchtower cult alleges, and have a valid faith. And how could one possibly possess a “faith” which acknowledges Christ as an historical figure, but which repudiates the fact that he was virgin-born, or that he was resurrected from the dead? The “faith” of modernism is no faith at all.

It is very difficult to fathom how some in the church today can contend that one may become a Christian without even understanding the components of what it takes to undergo this process. How can one become a Christian, for example, without believing in the very conditions specified in this passage? Does it make any sense to contend: “He who believes [not in the necessity of faith and baptism] and is baptized shall be saved”? And yet, there is a growing number in the body of Christ who contend that it is not necessary to understand the purpose of baptism in order to be saved — or that the rite itself is even essential!

Baptism

What is baptism? It is strange that there should be confusion in the religious community on this important theme.

First, the Greek word baptizo means to “dip” or “immerse.” The ancient Greeks used the term of a sinking ship (Liddell, 283). In the Greek Old Testament (LXX), baptizo is rendered “dip” — in contrast to “sprinkle” or “pour” (see Lev. 14:15-16). Baptism involves a burial in water and a resurrection therefrom (Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12).

Though there are earlier generic references to other forms, the first-recorded specific case that reveals a change in the mode of baptism occurred around A.D. 251, when Novatus of Rome, being ill, had water poured upon him in his bed. Eusebius, an ancient historian who records the incident, questioned whether such was even “baptism” (V.XLIII).

Second, as Mark 16:16 indicates, baptism was authorized only for believers (infants thus being excluded) (cf. Acts 8:12; 18:8). There exists not a single passage in the entire New Testament that even remotely hints that babies were administered the ordinance of baptism.

Third, the focus of the rite was to bring a person out of the state of sin.

“And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

“And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word,” (Eph. 5:25-26).

“which also after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).

And introduce him into a relationship with Jesus Christ

“Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).

“For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).

This transition into Christ also affiliates one with the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3-5), or the “body” of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), which is the same as the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18,24).

Salvation

The term “saved” depicts the result of one’s sincere obedience to the gospel plan. It is the equivalent of “forgiven,” “redeemed,” “cleansed,” etc. It reflects the assurance of pardon from God for all past sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), and embodies the hope of final deliverance at the conclusion of a faithful life (Rom. 13:11; 1 Thes. 5:8; 1 Pet. 1:9).

The notion that the Christian’s salvation is so secure that he can never be lost — no matter what he does — has no biblical basis (Gal. 5:4; Heb. 3:12; 2 Pet. 2:1). For further study, see our booklet, Eternal Security – Fact or Fiction?

Conclusion

Thus stands Mark 16:16 in all of its power. It cannot be dismissed by textual critics, nor rationalized by a sectarian clergy. It is profound, yet simple. It is demanding, yet refreshing. It must be practiced, and then proclaimed — so help us God.

Sources/Footnotes
  • Burgon, J.W. (1959 edition), The Last Twelve Verses of Mark (Ann Arbor: Sovereign Grace).
  • Dana, H.E. & Mantey, Julius R. (1955), A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: Macmillan).
  • Eusebius (1955 edition), Ecclesiastical History (Grand
  • Rapids: Baker).
  • Farmer, W.R. (1974), The Last Twelve Verses of Mark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • Grassmick, John D. (1983), “Mark,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John Walvoord & Roy Zuck, Eds. (Wheaton, IL: Victor).
  • Lenski, R.C.H. (1961), The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg).
  • Liddell, H.G. & Scott, Robert (1869), Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon).
  • McGarvey (n.d.), Commentary on Matthew & Mark (Des Moines: Eugene Smith).
  • Metzger, Bruce M. (1971), A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies).
  • Robertson, A.T. (1919), A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (London: Hodder & Stoughton).
  • Robertson, A.T. (1925), An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman).
  • Robertson, A.T. (1930), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman).
  • Scrivener, F.H.A. (1883), A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell & Co.).
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.