Jesus said, "...When you have gone into the whole world, preach the Good News to all mankind. The person who believes it and is immersed will be saved, but the person who doesn't believe it will be condemned." (SEB, Mark 16:15,16).
Sounds SIMPLE enough, doesn't it? Well then, why are so many people CONFUSED about these simple words of Jesus? Is the sentence structure TOO COMPLEX for them to understand? Did Jesus really say these words? Why do so many people object to this passage? What is it about it that offends them so much?
The real question is: WHO IS SAVED, AND HOW DOES ONE KNOW WHO IS SAVED? Mark 16:16 answers that. This passage tells us that you can know that you (or anybody else) are saved. If "believe" (pisteuo = commit) and "baptized" (baptizo = immerse) are properly defined and translated, then there will be no doubt about it.
To whom are we supposed to proclaim the gospel? To the saved or to the unsaved? According to Matthew's account of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19,20), there is a persuasion angle. The heart of God's message is FIRST to be directed toward those who have never heard it before – the unsaved – to those who have NOT YET become followers of Christ. Therefore, there IS inherent in the Great Commission itself the concept of identity. You know who you are, and you know who "they" are. There was no question in Jesus' mind about who his followers were. One was either a follower of Christ or he was not. His true followers were the ones who were teaching others to become OBEDIENT followers of Christ. The decision to become a follower of Jesus depended entirely upon a person's reaction to the actual teachings of Jesus.
Therefore, it is crucial to know WHO is saved, as well as WHO is not saved. We also need to know WHEN AND HOW a person becomes a Christian, not only for the purpose of fellowshipping one another, but also for the sake of fulfilling our mission. God is not vague about this matter, and neither should we be. We CAN be certain about whom to call "brother" or "sister." Though we as human beings are NOT the final Arbiter (God), we CAN know who is IN Christ and who isn't (see Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27).
Is salvation represented as conditional in Mark 16:16? If so, what are the stated conditions? Is it: "The one who believes will be saved"? No. Is it: "The one who is baptized will be saved"? No. Is it: "The one who believes AND is baptized"? Yes. That is what Jesus actually taught
in Mark 16:16. However, many SAY that they believe that baptism is essential for salvation – provided that the person is ALREADY saved before baptism! That is a contradiction of terms.
If Jesus had said, "The one who believes AND is baptized" will receive $50,000.00, how much quibbling would there be over the necessity of baptism? Who would dare to raise his or her voice to advocate the position that the $50,000 is yours BEFORE baptism?
Suppose a medical doctor says, "The person who eats AND exercises will enjoy good health, but the one who refuses to eat will become sick." Would we not understand that BOTH eating AND exercising are prerequisites of good health? In every place that salvation and baptism are mentioned together in the New Testament writings, the salvation always FOLLOWS the baptism.
When a sinner refuses to be baptized, may we say that it was because he did not believe? Disobedience is unbelief (Compare Num. 20:12 with Deut. 32:51), and obedience is faith (cf. John 3:36; Rom. 1:5; 16:26; James 2: 14-26). Hence, do you believe that a person who KNOWS what Jesus said in Mark 16:16, but refuses to be baptized will be saved? I don't. When the Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses would not permit themselves to be immersed by John the Baptist, they refused to obey God's plan, i.e. they REJECTED the counsel of God (Luke 7:29,30). Was John's immersion more important than Jesus' immersion mentioned in Mark 16:16? If those people were not acceptable to God because they stubbornly resisted the baptism of John, how do you think God looks at it today when someone rejects the baptism of Jesus? Can people really accept God’s word today yet refuse to be immersed in water? Can a person who willfully rejects immersion be saved? What the faith-only advocates need is a Scriptural reference which says that the UNbaptized believer is saved (and it must have been written since Jesus spoke Mark 16:16).
What is literal in Mark 16:16? Is belief? Is baptism? Is salvation? Some claim that baptism is ONLY symbolic, i.e. not to be taken literally with reference, to eternal salvation. If that is the case, then "believes" is MERELY symbolic too. And, "salvation" would also be symbolic. Are they willing to go that far, namely, that one's faith doesn't have anything to do with a literal salvation?
Some simple arithmetic from the Bible: Here Jesus said that belief plus immersion = salvation (2 + 2 = 4). Some are saying: belief minus immersion = salvation (2 -2 = 4?). However, the conjunction "AND" forever joins belief with immersion as CO-conditions for salvation! Should we dare to tamper with God's Word to make it read: "The one who believes AND is saved will be immersed?
Let's look at how some people change Mark 16:16 to suit the doctrines of men: (belief, then baptism), then salvation –Jesus
1. baptism, then salvation, then belief – Catholics
2. belief, then salvation, then baptism – Baptists and others
3. salvation, then (belief? then baptism?) – Universalists
I take Jesus at his word. However, Catholics, because of the doctrine of Original Sin, teach and practice that infants (who cannot "believe") must be baptized for salvation, and, later they will come to full faith. Although Baptists and other Protestants emphasize that only believers who are old enough to understand the implications of sin can be saved, water baptism is supposed to be only "an outward sign of an inward grace" and is NOT necessary to salvation, but it IS essential for becoming a Baptist! Universalists believe and teach that no one is lost (there is no hell, nothing to be "saved" from). Therefore, they claim that it is NOT necessary to believe in God or to be baptized. Which of these positions do you believe?
Can a person be saved BEFORE he is born again (John 3:5)? BEFORE his sins are washed away (Acts 22:16)? BEFORE he is in Christ (Romans 6:3,4)? BEFORE he is a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17)? BEFORE he puts on Christ (Gal. 3:26,37)? BEFORE he reaches the blood (Eph. 2:13)? BEFORE he is where salvation is (2 Tim. 2:10; cf. Eph. 1:3)? BEFORE he is regenerated (Titus 3:5)? BEFORE Jesus said a person would be saved (Mark 16: 16)? If none of the above are true, then one CANNOT be saved without being immersed!
Sometimes opponents use the following illustration to explain their view of baptism in Mark 16: 16: The one who enters a train and sits down reaches the city. They say that the sitting down is unnecessary, i.e. one may reach the city even if one has to STAND while enroute by train. However, their position states that the one who believes is ALREADY saved. Therefore, to follow their analogy exactly, that person would be AT the city BEFORE he has time to sit down (i.e. he is saved before he has a chance to be immersed). That kind of travel would make jet transportation appear to be slow!
Consider this hypothetical situation: What would happen to a person who makes a confession of faith but who is accidentally killed on the way to be immersed? Will that person go to heaven or to hell? The true answer is: WE ARE NOT THE JUDGE! Evidently, they believe that such a person would go to heaven because of his good intentions. Is that not judging (Matt. 7:1)? Isn't it really up to God? Yes, let's leave the business of judging up to God. I suppose this hypothetical person would be in the same condition as the one who WOULD have believed a preacher's sermon IF he went into the building to hear a stirring message about Jesus, and the hypothetical person WOULD have believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. HOWEVER, this hypothetical person, before actually entering the church building, tripped on the church house steps, struck his head on the concrete, and died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Was he saved or not? Stupid reasoning, isn't it?
Salvation of some kind is unquestionably involved in Mark 16:16. If Baptists say that "saved" refers to heaven, they surrender their position on the impossibility of apostasy because baptism in this text is essential to salvation. However, if they say Mark 16:16 refers to salvation from past sins, they admit my position. What will they do? They are caught on the horns of a dilemma. It is THEIR dilemma, not mine. Will they do anything, or will they repudiate Mark 16:16? They must DO something!
I remember an incident in the spring of 1977, when the Simple English Bible (New Testament) manuscript was being prepared for publication. I showed a computer print-out of the Gospel of Mark to a denominational man who granted that immersion is the proper mode. However, I vividly recall that this man became VERY UPSET when he read Mark 16:16. (which was translated as it appears today, at the beginning of this article). Why? Because, for the FIRST time, this man UNDERSTOOD the implications of the specificity of "immersion" when put next to the word "saved." This man angrily responded, "I DON'T BELIEVE THAT A PERSON HAS TO BE IMMERSED TO BE SAVED! Do you see? He got the real point of what Jesus said, because baptism was properly translated. Do you think he would have objected if I had put in the word "baptized" instead of "immersed"? I don't think so. The English term "baptized", from other English Bibles, had NEVER "registered" with this individual all the years before that day. Why? Because the English word "baptized" is so generic that it never quite got the point of Mark 16:16 across to this person. This gentlemen already knew the original meaning of baptizo, but the impact of it had NEVER been driven home to him until he saw the full force of it fully specified in the context of Mark 16:16!
The ramifications of it had NEVER occurred to him before that time. Therefore, he reacted violently against its obvious conclusion.
For further linguistic research about "immersion," do yourself a favor and purchase a copy of T. J. Conant's The Meaning and Use of Baptizein (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501).
In the heat of battle, unfortunately, some feel forced to call into question the very authenticity of Mark 16:9-20. In 1946, in the first edition of the New Testament of the Revised Standard Version, the last twelve verses of Mark were subjugated to the fine print of a footnote! This has caused a tremendous amount of confusion; it was exceedingly misleading. In fact, since the early 1970's the RSV has restored the whole passage to the main text. However, a few elitist liberals still arrogantly advocate that the evidence of the majority of Greek manuscripts and ancient versions of the Gospel of Mark is altogether fatal to the retention of Mark 16:9-20. They also allege that early Christian writers plainly testify against this section of Scripture and that it must be abandoned because of internal "evidence." Nothing could be further from the truth!
On the contrary, the manuscript evidence is so overwhelmingly in favor of including Mark 16:9-20 that no room is left for doubt or suspicion. Professor Burgon said: "There is not so much as one of the fathers, early or late, who gives it as his opinion that these verses are spurious." All of the ancient translations, with the exception of a dozen or so copies, DO contain Mark 16:9-20. And the so-called "arguments" derived from "internal considerations" prove to be baseless and unsubstantiated. The question is not one of authorship, but only one of genuineness.
The liberals claim that there is a variety of "possibilities" available: (I) no ending of Mark; (2) the so-called "long ending" of Mark, viz. 16:9-20; (3) the so-called "shorter ending" of Mark (which is actually only a poorly-attested text of two non-Biblical verses, which does NOT appear without Mark 16:9-20 anyway!). However, the authentic Gospel of Mark has only ONE ending (Mark 16:9-20); it does NOT need restoring (cf. Mark 14:28; 16:7)! It is a known rule in the law of evidence that the burden of proof lies on the party who asserts the affirmative of the issue. What proof do these liberals have that Mark 16:9-20 should be removed? There is a VERY clear-cut consensus of almost all Greek manuscripts, early versions, and the early Christian "fathers" concerning the inclusion of Mark 16:9-20.
Have you ever noticed how people tend to go so far out on the limb that they eventually fall off? It's time to return to the basics, to the "old paths" (Jer. 6:16). Is it that complicated to just follow the simple instructions of Jesus in Mark 16:16?
No. We should NEVER let our pride get in the way of obeying God. Follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Never follow followers. So, the moral of this story is: Before you go very far out on the limb, be sure you have a firm grip on something solid!
FOOTNOTE: (1) John W. Burgon, The Last Twelve Verses of Mark (Ann Arbor, Michigan: The Sovereign Grace Book Club, 1959), p. 79.