Does Mark 16:16 Involve “Water” Baptism?

By Wayne Jackson

“Would you provide biblical evidence in answering this question: Does the baptism of Mark 16:16 involve water? A friend contends the passage refers to a ‘baptism into Christ’ at the point of faith. Then, subsequently — as a Christian — one submits to baptism in water as an act of obedience, symbolizing his salvation.”

Unfortunately, your friend is quite in error on this matter. Consider the following points.

  1. It is universally conceded that the “Great Commission,” as set forth by Mark (16:15-16), finds a counterpart at the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel narrative (Matthew 28:18-20). A discussion of these parallels may be found in numerous works (e.g., D.A. Mackinnon in: Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, James Hastings, ed., Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1906, Vol. I, pp. 347-349; Everett Harrison in: Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology, Everett Harrison, Geoffrey Bromiley, and Carl Henry, eds., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999, pp. 130-131).

    This matter conceded, it is imperative that the Bible student analyzes carefully the language of Matthew’s version of the Commission. The Lord instructed his apostles to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19). The participle, “baptizing them,” explains “the manner in which the given action was performed” (Samuel Green, Handbook to the Grammar of the Greek Testament, London: Religious Tract Society, 1907, p. 332).

    The “baptizing” is to be done by the ones who are “going” into all the world. This makes it very clear that the administrators of this baptism are those who are proclaiming the gospel. The baptism of the text, therefore, is not some mystical, invisible baptism; rather, it is the water baptism commonly referred to in the New Testament record, that was administered by men.

    In fact, unless it can be demonstrated that “baptize” is used in a metaphorical sense (as in Matthew 3:11b; Luke 12:50; John 1:33b; Acts 1:5; 11:16b), it must be concluded that water baptism is in view in most New Testament passages that mention the term (cf. Matthew 3:6; John 1:28; 3:23; etc.).
  2. Since the “baptism” of Mark 16:16, as predicated upon faith, was to result in salvation, if it can be shown that elsewhere in the New Testament salvation is joined to water baptism, it will have been established that the baptism of Mark’s record is, in fact, an immersion in water.

    The connection between “water” and “salvation” is simply too obvious to miss — unless one’s mind is clouded with a misguided presupposition. For example, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of the state of being “cleansed” (the equivalent of being “saved”) by means of “the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). Additionally, Peter alludes to those souls who were “saved through water,” adding, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (1 Peter 3:20-21).
  3. Finally, virtually the entire world of biblical scholarship acknowledges that the baptism of Mark 16:16 is that which involves water (see: J.H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1958, p. 94; Danker, et al., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000, p. 164).

The truth is, this issue is so clear, and so settled, that it is not even a matter of discussion, much less controversy, among biblical scholars.

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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.