Why Water Baptism Is Not Essential to Salvation


Points We Should Agree On

Salvation was purchased neither by water nor by faith. Our salvation is by grace through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. The issue is whether we choose to receive that salvation through
a) faith
(most Bible-believing Christians, including some
Church of Christ)
b) Faith plus one work: baptism
(some Church of Christ)
c) Faith plus works in general
(Catholic, Orthodox, some Church of Christ)
d) Being a nice guy (Jesus' blood was unnecessary)
(many liberal Protestants and Catholics)

Why This is Important

A person can believe the wrong one of the first two and still be saved. But to me this is still important and unscriptural:
1. Says God sometimes breaks His promise
2. Salvation: God plus our response plus a 3rd party
3. Is there a corner in Hell for some obedient believers?
On the other hand, many Church of Christ people say that if a person was martyred for their faith, and even if they were first baptized by immersion, if it was not specifically for remission of sins, there was no point for them to die for their faith, because they are in Hell.
What if a Church of Christ person believed, but was killed in a car wreck on the way to being baptized?

Thesis

Nowhere does the Bible say the words "Cannot be saved without water baptism"
Granted that some Bible truths are implied, not directly stated.
But allegedly implied truths that contradict Biblically stated truths are untruths.

Outline: Five Points

Through Faith (Jn 3:16,18,36; Jn 5:24; 6:29,35,40 Rom 10:9-13, 1 Cor 1:14,17a etc.)
Response of a Believer (Mk 16:16; Jn 3:3-6; Acts 2:38; 22:16, 1 Pet 3:20-21 etc.)
Understanding Salvation (Eph 2:8-10)
Thief on the Cross (Luke 23:40-43)
Holy Spirit & Cornelius (Acts 10:43-48)

Through Faith We Are Saved

Some verses teach belief/faith for salvation, no mention of baptism. Others explicitly give the Promise of All who believe / have faith ... are saved (John 3:16,18, etc.)
We should all believe God's promises.
But what is genuine belief / saving faith?

Genuine Belief / Saving Faith

Saving Faith is not belief about but believing on
Even the devils believe - and shudder (Jms 2:19)
"Cheap grace", mere belief about facts, but not leading to a transformed life, is dead (Jms 2:20-24)
True belief means trusting our lives to God
OT: Ps 4:5; 9:10; 13:5; 20:7; 22:4,9; 25:2; Pr 3:5; Isa 8:17
NT: Rom 4:5; 9:33; 10:11; 1 Pet 2:6
Heb 2:13 (quotes 2 Sam 22:3)
Blondin & tightrope over Niagara Falls illustration
Old Testament believers, with the knowledge they had, were saved trusting forward to the same Savior we have, while we with the knowledge we have trust backwards at the finished work of Christ.
When Blondin was about to walk over Niagara Falls on a tightrope pushing a wheelbarrow, a man told him that he believed that he could do it. Blondin asked if he really believed. When the man said yes, Blondin told him to get in the wheelbarrow. Genuine faith is not standing on the side saying "I believe", but saving faith in Christ is being willing to get in the wheelbarrow.

Genuine Belief in Jesus as Lord

Genuine belief in Jesus as Lord implies a repentance, calling on God, and commitment to obedience, including I might add, practicing the Lord's supper and baptism.
But let's say a person was unable to fulfill baptism or another act of obedience, God understands out intentions.

Role of Works in Salvation

Both Ephesians 2:8-9 and James 2 show that works have an important role in our salvation: they are an output, not an input. Works are like a beating heart. You can make a dead person's heart beat with electrodes, but that does not mean they are alive. But if you say a person is alive but their heart is not beating, then I have my doubts.
Baptism is a work of a saved believer, not a lost person.
But if someone says works have a role in us getting saved, then they deny Ephesians 2:8.

Twice as many verses emphasize belief without baptism Verses showing water baptism
Jn 3:16,18,36 (whosoever) Jn 1:11-12 (received him) Mk 16:16 (believe and is baptized)
Jn 5:24 Jn 2:11b, 23b (belief only) Jn 3:4-6 (born of water & spirit)
Acts 10:43-48 Jn 6:29,35,40,47 Acts 2:37-38 (for remission of sins)
Rom 4:1-6; 5:1 Jn 7:38,39; Acts 22:16 (wash away thy sins)
Rom 9:33 (belief only) Jn 8:30-32 Rom 6:3-5 (bapt....into His death)
Rom 10:9-13 Jn 11:25-26 (believes) 1 Cor 6:11 (washed... by the spirit)
Joel 2:32a+Acts 2:21+Rom 10:13 Jn 12:46 (believe) Gal 3:26-27 (baptized...clothed)
1 Cor 1:14,17 Jn 16:9 (not believe) Eph 5:26,Tt 3:5 (washing)
Eph 2:8-10 Jn 17:20 (believe only) Col 2:11-13; Heb 10:22
Gal 3:22b (belief only) Rom 10:9-10 (if a man...) 1 Pet 3:20b-21
Heb 4:2 (faith only) 1 Jn 5:1,10-13 1 Cor 1:12-13 (Paul and divisions)
Other verses mentioning belief but not baptism: Jn 4:39a,41; 9:35; 10:42; 11:25,45,48; 12:11, 31,42,44; 14:1,12; 20:31 Acts 14:23; 20:21; Rom 15:13; Php 1:29; Tt 3:8 Other verses mentioning baptism: Mt 28:19; Acts 1:22; 2:41; 8:13,16, 37-39; 1 Cor 10:2


John 3:16,18

Jn 3:16
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (KJV)
Note it is not that this verse simply mentions belief without baptism. It says that whosoever believes is saved, without baptism.
John 3:18

Jn 3:18
He that believeth in Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (KJV)
When you believed in Christ, were you condemned or not condemned at that exact in time?
John 3:36
"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." (KJV)
John 5:24
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." (KJV)
Acts 10:43
(KJV) "To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name, whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins."
This was said to Cornelius prior to baptism.
Rom 10:9-13
(also Joel 2:32a; Acts 2:21) (KJV)
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (10) For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (11) For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. (12) For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. (13) For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."
1 Cor 1:14; 17a
(KJV)
1 Cor 1:14 "I [Paul] thank God that I baptized none of you but Cris'pus and Ga'i-us"
1 Cor 1:17a "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel:"
Jn 6:28-29,35,40
(KJV)
Jn 6:28-29
"Then said they unto him, What shall we do that we might work the works of God? (29) Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent."
Jn 6:35
"And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."
Jn 6:40
"And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day."
Twice as many verses emphasize belief without baptism Verses showing water baptism
Jn 3:16,18,36 (whosoever) Jn 1:11-12 (received him) Mk 16:16 (believe and is baptized)
Jn 5:24 Jn 2:11b, 23b (belief only) Jn 3:4-6 (born of water & spirit)
Acts 10:43-48 Jn 6:29,35,40,47 Acts 2:37-38 (for remission of sins)
Rom 4:1-6; 5:1 Jn 7:38,39; Acts 22:16 (wash away thy sins)
Rom 9:33 (belief only) Jn 8:30-32 Rom 6:3-5 (bapt....into His death)
Rom 10:9-13 Jn 11:25-26 (believes) 1 Cor 6:11 (washed... by the spirit)
Joel 2:32a+Acts 2:21+Rom 10:13 Jn 12:46 (believe) Gal 3:26-27 (baptized...clothed)
1 Cor 1:14,17 Jn 16:9 (not believe) Eph 5:26,Tt 3:5 (washing)
Eph 2:8-10 Jn 17:20 (believe only) Col 2:11-13; Heb 10:22
Gal 3:22b (belief only) Rom 10:9-10 (if a man...) 1 Pet 3:20b-21
Heb 4:2 (faith only) 1 Jn 5:1,10-13 1 Cor 1:12-13 (Paul and divisions)
Other verses mentioning belief but not baptism: Jn 4:39a,41; 9:35; 10:42; 11:25,45,48; 12:11, 31,42,44; 14:1,12; 20:31 Acts 14:23; 20:21; Rom 15:13; Php 1:29; Tt 3:8 Other verses mentioning baptism: Mt 28:19; Acts 1:22; 2:41; 8:13,16, 37-39; 1 Cor 10:2

Summary of the First Section

While some verses simply mention belief without baptism, many other verses say that all who believe, regardless of baptism will be saved.
We will call these the "whosoever" verses.
Saving faith is a living faith, that is willing to repent, confess God, and obey. Of course getting baptized with water is part of obeying. But if a person dies before they are able to be baptized, God looks at our heart.



Response of a Believer

Water baptism verses Summary of Response
Mk 16:16 yet Jn 3:36 Faith leads to baptism, only unbelief condemned
Jn 3:4-6 yet Jn 3:16,18 Spoken to Nicodemus before the resurrection
Acts 2:37-38 yet 10:43 Eis can mean result of or in, as in Acts 10:43
Acts 22:16 yet 22:13 Never said "Brother" Saul was not saved first
Rom 6:3-5 yet 10:9-11 No mention of the pious unbaptized like the thief
1 Cor 6:11 yet Rom 8:11; Eph 1:13-14a Washed by the Spirit here, not water. If the Spirit is in a NT believer, Spirit's seal guarantees.
Gal 3:26-27 yet 2 Cor 5:4-5 A soldier's uniform is an emblem of his identity. All with the Spirit guaranteed future clothing.
Eph 5:26,Tt 3:5 Baptism of the Holy Spirit as in Acts 1:5 + 2:4
Col 2:11-13 yet Rom 2:29; Acts 15:1-21 Symbol of buried with Christ. Bible never said cannot be saved without water baptism
Heb 10:22 yet 1 Pet 3:21 The washed body is a visible emblem, but 1 Pet 3:21a says does not save.
1 Pet 3:20b-21 yet 2:6b Noah and Abraham obedient saints beforehand.
1 Cor 1:12-13 yet 1:14-17 Baptism not vital since Paul NOT sent to baptize.
Others: Mt 28:19; Acts 1:22; 2:41; 8:13,16, 37-39 - not say for salvation

Response of a Believer

Belief in the Lord Jesus implies a pledge of obedience. But this does NOT imply God sends an obedient believer, who in unable to do something, to Hell!
While no other way except Christ (Jn 14:6b, Acts 4:12) the Bible never says condemned without baptism.
While these show baptism is an important response of believers, no verse reneges on God's promise to all who believe!
Mk 16:16
"He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned."
Yet John 3:36 "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (NKJV)
Mark 16:16 does not specifically say all who believe but are unbaptized go to Hell. It if did, it would contradict John 3:36 and the other whosoever verses.
Here is a "Change for a dollar and a water bottle illustration".
If my daughter in the kitchen asks me for change for a dollar, and I tell her, give me a dollar and a water bottle and I will give you change. If my daughter gives me both I give her the change. If my daughter does not give me a dollar, then no change. But what if my daughter gives me a dollar but not a water bottle. Then it depends. If she says, I looked but I was unable to find a water bottle, then I will still give her change. But if she says something disrespectful, and refuses to give me a water bottle that she can get, then no change.
A Church of Christ counter example was given as: "if you eat and digest your food you will live, if you do not eat, you will die." Digesting your food is implied. However, applying to Mark 16:16 this example of an involuntary bodily action to a command of God we are to voluntarily obey contradicts the Word of God, that promises salvation to all who truly believe in the following places: John 3:16,18,36; John 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-26; Acts 10:43-48; Romans 9:33; Joel 2:32a + Acts 2:21 + Romans 10:9-10; 10:13; 1 John 5:1,10-13
John 3:4-6
"'Nic-o-de'mus saith unto Him, 'How can a man be born when is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?' (5) Jesus answered, 'Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (KJV)
Jn 3:16
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (KJV)
Jn 3:18a
"He that believeth on him is not condemned" (KJV)
One reason John 3:4-6 does not mean all who are not baptized go to Hell is that it would contradict John 3:16; 18a and the other whosoever verses. A second reason is that Jesus said John 3:4-6 before the resurrection.
Jn 3:46 said before the resurrection

a) If baptism essential before resurrection: Thief on the cross problem in Lk 23:43
b) If baptism not-essential, then since Jesus told Nicodemus prior to His resurrection, John 3:5 cannot teach no unbaptized person can be saved.
But if b), note that believers were to be baptized in Jn 4:2
Water baptism: Not practiced in the OT, a command in the New, but never was it simply a suggestion!
Acts 2:37-38 yet Acts 10:43
Acts 2:37-38
"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' (38) Peter replied, '[ya'll] Repent and [he/she] be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for [eis] the forgiveness / remission [aphesin] of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (NIV/NKJV)
Yet Acts 10:43 "To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission / forgiveness of sins." (NKJV/NIV)
Yet Acts 2:21 (Joel 2:32a; Rom 10:13)

"And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved" (NKJV)
So right before Acts 2:36, Peter told us the criteria for receiving salvation: Acts 2:21.
A second reason Acts 2:37-38 does not teach all who are not baptized go to Hell is that it would contradict the other whosoever verses.
Forgiveness/Remission [Aphesin] are the Same word in Greek

The word forgiveness/remission is the same Greek: aphesin (Strong's 859)
The same Greek word is used as:
Remission (KJV/NKJV) Mt 26:28; Mk 1:4; Lk 1:77; 3:3; 24:47; Heb 9:22; 10:18
Forgiveness (KJV/NKJV), Mk 3:29; Acts 5:31; 13:38; 26:18; Eph 1:7; Col 1:14
NIV has forgiveness/forgiven in all these verses
Many Meanings of Eis (Strong's 1519)

Eis
mean in order to cause (looking forward)

Lk 5:14 Jesus told the cleansed leper to show himself to the priests as Moses commanded eis a testimony to them.
Eis
means "because of" (looking backward)
Mt 3:11 "John baptized eis repentance. If eis could only mean to cause remission of sins in Acts 2:38, then eis would have to baptize to cause repentance in Mt 3:11
Mt 12:41 [Ninevites] "repented eis the preaching of Jonah"
Eis
means "to"
Jn 4:5 "He [Jesus] comes eis a city of Samaria"
Jn 11:31 "She goes eis the tomb"
Isa 13:14 (Septuagint) "a man shall turn back to his own people" This means "[return] to", but it is looking backward, not forward. They did not just become his people, they were already his people.
Eis
means "about" or "in reference to"
Acts 2:25 David speaks eis him
Cause and Effect and Eis

If eis could only mean "caused"
The Ninevites "caused" the preaching of Jonah? Mt 12:31
Mary goes to "cause" the tomb"? Jn 11:31
Through one man sin "caused" the world"? Rom 5:12)
John the Baptist had a baptism for repentance to cause forgiveness of sins too. (Then what about the thief on the cross?) (Lk 3:3)
You cannot base a doctrine on a grammatical ambiguity!
Looking Backward with eis

Church of Christ people claim eis never looks backward. However, besides Mt 3:11 and 12:41; it looks backward (as well as forward) in the Old Testament Septuagint. It looks backward in
Mal 2:2 Did not One God (eis) create you?
Mal 2:11 [Judah] has gone (eis) after other gods.
Acts 22:16 yet Acts 22:13a

Acts 22:16
[Ananias told Paul] "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." (NIV)
Acts 22:13a
"He stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!'..." (NIV)
Saul/Paul was already a fellow believer in Acts 22:13. 1) This does not say baptism saved, and 2) if it was the water that washed sins away that would be against 1 Peter 3:21.
One reason Acts 22:16 does not refer to unbaptized believers going to Hell is that it would contradict the whosoever verses.
More on Brother

Now brethren meant fellow Jews in Rom 9:3; Acts 3:17; 13:26; 22:1,2; 23:1,5. However:
We have no proof that Ananias was Jewish
Ananias and Paul had a bond that was closer than being Jewish: even prior to Paul's baptism, both were genuine believers.
All genuine believers are our brothers. Baptism is only something a brother and sister believer does. The key issue here, is, can a genuine "brother", like the thief on the cross, or Cornelius before he was baptized, be in Hell if He dies before he does the "work" of water baptism?
Alexander Campbell Christian Messenger, 1831 p.19,21

"My opinion is that immersion is the only baptism. But shall I therefore make my opinion a term of Christian fellowship? If in this case I thus act, where shall I cease from making my opinions terms of fellowship? I confess I see no end. . . . Let us still acknowledge all to be brethren, who believe in the Lord Jesus, and humbly and honestly obey him, as far as they know his will, and their duty."
Rom 6:3-5 yet Rom 10:9-13

Rom 6:3-5
"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (4) Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (5) For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:" (KJV)
While Rom 6 refers to water baptism, not just Spirit baptism, this never says cannot be saved if not baptized. Rather, it gives the meaning of baptism (our identification with Christ's death and resurrection.
Yet Rom 10:9-13

Rom 10:9-13
"that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (10) For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (11) For Scripture says, 'Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame. (12) For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. (13) For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (NKJV)
1 Cor 6:11 yet Rom 8:11; Eph 1:13-14a

1 Cor 6:11
"And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God." (NIV)
Washed by the Spirit here, not water.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit is in Mt 3:11b; Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16b; Acts 1:5+2:4; 8:16-17; 19:2-7; 1 Cor 12:13
Yet Rom 8:11; Eph 1:13-14a

Rom 8:11
"But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." (NKJV)
Eph 1:13-14a
"In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, (14) who is the guarantee of our inheritance..." (NKJV)
Gal 3:26-27 yet 2 Cor 5:4-5

Gal 3:26-27
"For you are all sons of God though faith in Christ Jesus, (27) For all of you who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (uNASB)
The Greek word enduo "clothed/put on" (Strong's 1746) "in the sense of sinking into a garment); to invest with clothing (lit. or fit.): array, cloths (with), endue, have (put) on."
As a soldier has a uniform, being clothed with Christ is an external emblem or an inward change and new identity.
Yet 2 Cor 5:4-5

Yet 2 Cor 5:4-5 "For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who have prepared for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee." (NKJV)
Even we are not fully clothed while in this life, but in the New Testament those who have the Spirit are guaranteed they will be fully clothed.
Eph 5:26 & Titus 3:5 yet Acts 1:5+2:4

Eph 5:26
"To make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word," (NIV)
Titus 3:5
"he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior" (NIV)
This is baptism (washing) of the Holy Spirit, which is mentioned in Acts 1:5 and fulfilled in Acts 2:4
Alexander Campbell Design by Baptism p.262 (1st part)

"In this sense we are to understand what is said by Paul, that Christ sanctifieth and cleanseth the church 'with washing of water by the word.' Eph 5:26, and in another place, that 'according to His mercy he saved us, but the washing of regeneration, and of renewing of the Holy Ghost' Titus 3:5, and by Peter that 'baptism doeth save us' 1 Pet. 3:21, For it is not the intention of Paul to signify that our ablution and salvation are completed by water, or that water contains in itself the virtue to purify, regenerate, and renew; nor did Peter mean that it was the cause of salvation, but only the knowledge and assurance of it is received in this sacrament: what is sufficiently evident from the words they have used."
Alexander Campbell Design by Baptism p.262 (2nd part)

"For Paul connects together the 'word of life' and 'the baptism of water;' as if he had said, our ablution and sanctification are announced to us by the Gospel, and by baptism this message is confirmed. And Peter after having said the baptism doth save us, immediately adds, that it is 'not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God' which proceeds from faith. But on the contrary, baptism promises us no other purification than by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ; which is emblematically represented by water, on account of its resemblance to washing and cleansing."
Col 2:11-13 yet Rom 2:29; Acts 15:1-21

Col 2:11-13
"In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: (12) Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. (13) And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses." (KJV)
Yet Rom 2:29

Rom 2:25-28
said that circumcision had value if you obeyed the law, but not for lawbreakers. Even those who kept the law but were uncircumised will be regarded as circumcised.
Rom 2:29 "But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." (KJV)

Yet Acts 15:1-12

Some men [falsely] taught that unless you are circumcised you cannot be saved. The apostles COULD have said, "Not circumcision anymore but baptism." But instead Peter said, "No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."
So they told Gentile believers to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, blood, but "missed their chance" to say that baptism is required.
Heb 10:22 yet 1 Pet 3:21

Heb 10:22
"let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." (NIV)
Yet 1 Pet 3:21a (NIV)
"and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also - not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God..."
1 Pet 3:21a (KJV)
"The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.)"
The body washed with pure water is a visible emblem of our changed hearts. 1 Peter 3:21 says that it is not the water that saves us but the pledge of a good conscience towards God.
1 Pet 3:20b-21 yet 1 Pet 2:6b

Pet 3:20b-21
"days of Noah, while the ark was preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. (21) The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:" (KJV)
Note: KJV's "by water" is incorrect; the Greek is "through water (di udatos)" per (NKJV, NIV, uNASB, Green's literal translation, NRSV)
Yet 1 Pet 2:6b "he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame." (NKJV)
Response to 1 Pet 3:20b-21

Both Noah and Abraham were obedient servants of God prior to the flood and testing with Isaac.
1 Peter 3:21 says it is NOT the water, but the pledge of a good conscience before God.
It does not refer to people who made a pledge but were not able to get baptized.
The Bible also uses word save in the fourth tense (of working out our salvation. So baptism only saves in the on-going sense that we can turn others from sin (James 5:20) we can save ourselves (Acts 2:40), we can save others (1 Cor 7:16, 9:22; 1 Tim 4:16)
Alexander Campbell Millennial Harbinger, 1837 p.411-412 (1st part)

"But who is a Christian? I answer, every one that believes in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God; repents of his sins, and obeys him in all things according to his measure of knowledge of his will. . . . I cannot make any one duty the standard of Christian state or character, not even immersion into the name of Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and [cannot] in my heart regard all that have been sprinkled in infancy without their own knowledge and consent, as aliens from Christ and the well-grounded hope of heaven."
Alexander Campbell Millennial Harbinger, 1837 p.411-412 (2nd part)

"Should I find a Pedobaptist [one baptized as an infant] more intelligent in the Christian Scriptures, more spiritually-minded and more devoted to the Lord than a Baptist, or one immersed on a profession of the ancient faith, I could not hesitate a moment in giving the preference of my heart to him that loveth most. Did I act otherwise, I would be a pure sectarian, a Pharisee among Christians."
It if False to Claim Church of Christ Always Taught This

This, it is wrong for Church of Christ literature to claim Churches of Christ always believed a person not immersed for sins is going to Hell.
One of the founders, Alexander Campbell, said a pedobaptist could be saved
Alexander Campbell was never immersed for remission of sins
Nobody in the church prior to this time said that belief without baptism would send someone to Hell
However, Ambrose, Augustine, and others did teach that baptized babies go to Heaven, and unbaptized babies go to Hell.
Understanding Salvation in Eph 2:8-10

Eph 2:8-10
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, lest anyone should boast. (10) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (NKJV)
 

Counter-argument1: Naaman the Syrian

In 2 Ki 5:10-15, Naaman was not cleansed of leprosy until he washed in the Jordan.
a) This act of faith was for cleansing from leprosy, not salvation.
b) It does not matter what river, or baptism water you use. But here it had to specifically be the Jordan River to make a point to Naaman.
c) There was no water baptism in the Old Testament.
d) Finally, if someone tried to make it relate to baptism, then Naaman did not know for sure there was only one God except the God of Israel until AFTER he washed in the Jordan in 2 Kings 5:15.
Counter-argument 2: Walls of Jericho

God by His grace gave Jericho to the Israelites without them working for it (Josh 6:2)
But they still had to march around the city for seven days, 13 times, before it fell.
Counter-argument 2 Answer

Their marching did not cause the walls to fall; God supernaturally did. Obediently doing works DOES give us blessings, but this was not for their salvation, but to their conquering strongholds in their life as believers. It would be a false caricature of our position to say that we are against works, or that works have nothing to do with a saved person's life. Works are an output of salvation, not an input.
Thief on the Cross in Luke 23:40-43

Baptism was a much "for" remission of sins before Jesus' resurrection as after. (Mk 1:4; Lk 1:77; Lk 3:3b same wording as Acts 2:38)
Rejecting John's baptism was rejecting God's will for them (Lk 7:30)
The disciples baptized too (Jn 3:26; 4:2)
Jesus had high regard for at least one near-death conversion!
No opportunity for water baptism, but did not reject.
One answer: God is understanding
Martyrs Potamiaena and the soldier Basilides

About 202 A.D., as the Christian lady Potamiaena was being lead to her martyr's death in the arena, the soldier Basilides kindly kept the rabble from bothering her. She said she would tell God of his kindness, and he would receive a reward. Three days after her death, he had a dream about her. Afterwards, when he was asked to swear something, he said he could not, as he was a Christian. First they thought he was joking, then they put him in prison; he was martyred too. Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History (323-326 A.D.) book 6 ch.5 p.253)
So would someone like that go to Hell, who truly trusted in Christ and was martyred for Him?
More on Basilides

In fairness to the other side, I must mention something else too. Brothers of the church met with Basilides in prison, and after talking with him gave him "the seal of the Lord". It is unclear that this is baptism, but it probably was. However, the pagan jailers would not have let a prisoner leave the prison to get baptized. So how could he get baptized?
Early Church: Immersion when Practical

Didache
(c.125 A.D.) ch.7 p.379 "baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if thou have not living water, baptize into other water; and if thou canst not in cold, in warm. But if thou have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."
Early Church Errors

But the early church made mistakes too.
Around 210 A.D. the early Church got the idea that before baptism you needed to go through a long, two year class for catechumens. What if someone came to Christ and was martyred before completing their lengthy class?
So according to this Church of Christ doctrine, all the Christian martyrs, including Basilides, who were killed before getting immersed in water, will be in Hell, I supposed studying Greek forever. Maybe they will have the thief on the cross as their instructor though.
Holy Spirit and Cornelius in Acts 10:43-48

They had the Holy Spirit prior to water baptism
So do we (John 14:16-17,23)
In the New Testament, all who have the Holy Spirit are in Christ. (1 John 4:13; Rom 8:9-11,14,16a)
Rom 8:14
"For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God." (uNASB)
Rom 8:16-17a
"The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, (17) and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ." (uNASB)
Cornelius according to 1 John 4:13
1 Jn 4:13
"By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit." (KJV, NKJV, uNASB)
Cornelius According to Rom 8:9-11
Rom 8:9-11
"But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you, Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. (10) And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness. (11) But if the Spirit of him that raised Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by [through] His Spirit that dwelleth in you." (KJV)
(Greek dia is "through" as NKJV, NIV, uNASB, Green's)
Summary

Through Faith (Jn 3:16,18,36, Jn 5:24; 6:29,35,40 Rom 10:9-13; 1 Cor 1:14,17a etc.)
Response of a Believer (Mk 16:16; Jn 3:3-6; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet 3:20-21 etc.)
Understanding Salvation (Eph 2:8-10)
Thief on the Cross (Luke 23:40-43)
Holy Spirit & Cornelius (Acts 10:43-48)
Conclusion

Water baptism is what a believer should do. Even all Church of Christ people will agree, but they try to differentiate between a genuine believer and a saved person.
Water baptism by immersion is only as essential for salvation as it was for the thief on the cross, Cornelius, Basilides and other early martyrs
Quote on Potamiaena and the soldier Basilides

Basilides may be counted the seventh of these. He led to martyrdom the celebrate Potamiaena, whose is still famous among the people of the country for the many things which she endured for the preservation of her chastity and virginity. For she was blooming in the perfection of her mind and her physical graces. Having suffered much for the faith of Christ, finally after tortures dreadful and terrible to speak of, she with her mother, Marcella, was put to death by fire. They say that the judge, Aquilla by name, having inflicted severe tortures upon her entire body, at last threatened to hand her over to the gladiators for bodily abuse. After a little consideration, being asked for her decision, she made a reply which was regarded as impious. Thereupon she received sentence immediately, and Basilides, one of the officers of the army, led her to death. But as the people attempted to annoy and insult her with abusive words, he drove back her insulters, showing her much pity and kindness. And perceiving the man's sympathy for her, she exhorted him to be of good courage, for she would supplicate her Lord for him after her departure, and he would soon receive a reward for the kindness he had shown her. Having said this, she nobly sustained the issue, burning pitch being poured little by little, over various parts of her body, from the sole of her feet to the crown of her head. Such was the conflict endured by this famous maiden.
Not long after this Basilides, being asked by his fellow-soldiers to swear for a certain reason, declared that it was not lawful for him to swear at all, for he was a Christian, and he confessed this openly. At first they thought that he was jesting, but when he continued to affirm it, he was led to the judge, and, acknowledging his conviction before him he was imprisoned. But the brethren in God coming to him and inquiring the reason of this sudden and remarkable resolution, he is reported to have said the Potamiaena, for three days after her martyrdom, stood beside him by night and placed a crown on his head, and said that she had besought the Lord for him and had obtained what she asked, and that soon she would take him with her. Thereupon the brethren gave him the seal(4) of the Lord; and on the next day, after giving glorious testimony for the Lord, he was beheaded."
Footnote 4 says, "The word aphragis, 'seal,' was very commonly used by the Fathers to signify baptism (see Suicer's Thesaurus)."
The Early Church on Cornelius

Anonymous Treatise on Re-baptism
(254-257 A.D.) ch.5 p.669-670 On speaking of Cornelius said, "And there will be no doubt that men may be baptized with the Holy Ghost without water, - as thou observest that these were baptized before they were baptized with water; that the announcements of both John and of our Lord Himself were satisfied, - forasmuch as they received the grace of the promise both without the imposition of the apostle's hands and without the [baptismal] laver, which they attained afterwards. And their hearts being purified, God bestowed upon them at the same time, in virtue of their faith, remission of sins; so that the subsequent baptism conferred upon them this benefit alone, that they received also the invocation of the name of Jesus Christ, that nothing might appear to be wanting to the integrity of their service and faith."
Cyprian (246-258 A.D.) Letter 71 p.378 strongly emphasized baptism (even of infants), and one can see the doctrine of baptismal regeneration in his writings. Yet in discussing Cornelius he even said, "For we find also, in the Acts of the Apostles, that this is maintained by the apostles, and kept in the truth of the saving faith, so that when, in the house of Cornelius the centurion, the Holy Ghost had descended upon the Gentiles who were there, fervent in the warmth of their faith, and believing in the Lord with the whole heart; and when, filled with the Spirit, they blessed God in divers tongues, still none the less the blessed Apostle Peter, mindful of the divine precept and the Gospel, commanded that those same men should be baptized who had already been filled with the Holy Spirit, that nothing might seem to be neglected to the observance by the apostolic instruction in all things of the law of the divine precept and Gospel."
We cannot find a single person in history who held to both believer's baptism plus all who are lost who are not immersed for remission of sins. In other words, according to the doctrine of many Churches of Christ, outside of the New Testament we cannot find in history a single person who had any possibility of going to heaven, until after the restoration movement started, and even Alexander Campbell was never baptized for remission of sins.
 
Note that Acts 2:38 says "ya'll (second person plural) repent and each of you (third person singular) be baptized. So forgiveness/remission of sins does not modify repent.

Other Notes


Two Classes of Verses

1. Mention of belief/faith for salvation, no mention of baptism
2. The Promise of All who believe/ have faith ... are saved (John 3:16,18, etc.)

Verses Showing Salvation Can Come Before or Without Water Baptism


Thief on the cross (Luke 23:40-43). The thief was not permitted to get down, get baptized, and then get back up on the cross again.
If God is understanding of the situation of the thief, then that proves water baptism is not essential for salvation.
Even though the thief died before Christ's resurrection, water baptism was still practiced by Jesus and his disciples (Jon 3:26; 4:2), and water baptism was for repentance for remission of sins by John the Baptist (Mk 1:4; Lk 1:77; 3:3b).
Jesus was said to have baptized (John 3:26), though actually Jesus had His disciples do the baptizing (John 4:2)
In Lk 3:3b John the Baptist was "preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (NKJV) and the words for remissions/forgiveness are the same in Acts 2:38 and Lk 3:3 in Greek as they are in English. (See also Mk 1:4; Lk 1:77)
Cornelius (Acts 10:43-48)
Note that they had the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45b) prior to water baptism.
In New Testament times, Romans 8:9,11,14,16-17 says that those who have the spirit in them, their spirit is alive, are sons of God, (17b) "heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."
 
Jn 3:16,18 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (18) He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he was not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (36) He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (NKJV)
Jesus was said to have baptized (John 3:26), though actually Jesus had His disciples do the baptizing (John 4:2)
In Lk 3:3b John the Baptist was "preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (NKJV) and the words for remissions/forgiveness are the same in Acts 2:38 and Lk 3:3 in Greek as they are in English. (See also Mk 1:4; Lk 1:77)
Jn 5:24 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life." (NKJV)
Rom 4:1-6 "What than shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he as something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 4) Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, (6) just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:" (NKJV)
Acts 10:43 "To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins." (NKJV)
Rom 5:1 "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, though whom we also have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." (NKJV)
Rom 10:9-13 "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (10) For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (11) For Scripture says, 'Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame. (12) For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. (13) For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (NKJV)
Joel 2:32a and Acts 2:21 and Rom 10:13 "And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved" (NKJV)
1 Cor 1:17a "For Christ did not send me [Paul] to baptize, but to preach the gospel," (NKJV)
Eph 2:8-10 "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (NKJV)
1 Cor 10:2 (indirectly) "all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea." (NKJV) Yet Moses, Joshua, Caleb, and other godly Israelites followed God before the crossed the Red Sea.
Gal 3:22b (indirectly) "that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe." (NKJV)
Heb 4:2 (indirectly) "For indeed the gospel was reached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it." They had to have faith for it to profit them. It does not say faith and baptism.
Jn 1:11-12 (indirectly) "He [Jesus] cam into His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe His name;" Says have to believe to become children of God; does not specify whether other steps or not.
Jn 2:11b, 23b (belief only) ""...and His disciples believed in Him. (23b) many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did."
Jn 6:29,35,40 "Jesus answered and said to them [the crowds], 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." (35) And Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst." (40) "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." (NKJV)
Jn 7:38,39 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. (39) But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." (NKJV)
Jn 8:30-32 "As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. Then Jesus aid to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed, And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'" (NKJV)
Jn 11:25-26 ""Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me; though he may die, shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (NKJV)
Jn 12:46 I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness." (NKJV)
Jn 16:9 [The Holy Spirit will convict the world] "of sin, because they do not believe in Me;" No mention of conviction for not being baptized.
Jn 17:20 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one,..."
Php 1:29 "For it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (not mention of baptism)
1 Jn 5:1 "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him." (NKJV)
1 Jn 5:10-13 "He who believes in the Son of God has the witness of himself; and he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son." (11) And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life; and this life is in His Son. (12) He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (13) These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God." (NKJV)
Other verses mentioning belief but not baptism: Jn 4:39a; 4:41; 9:35; 10:42; 11:45,48; 12:11,42,44; 14:1,12
Mark 16:16 "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (NIV)

Yet: John 3:36 "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (NKJV)

Q: Does Mark 16:16 prove that a person must be baptized in order to be saved?

A: No, it does not specify. It says that a person who believes and is baptized will be saved, and a person who does not believe is condemned. It is silent about people who believe but are not baptized. Let me give you a simple illustration. If my daughter's in the kitchen and she asks me for four quarters for a dollar, I could tell her to bring me a dollar, and also a water bottle. Now if she brings me a dollar and a water bottle I will give her change. If she does not bring me the dollar I do not give her change. But if she brings the dollar but no water bottle, I did not specify what I would do. If she refuses, perhaps making a disrespectful remark, I would not make change for her. On the other hand, if she tries to bring me a water bottle but cannot find one, should I still refuse her? - of course not. Matthew 7:7-8 says that "everyone who asks receives" Likewise Mark 16:16 does not specify about those who believe and are not baptized, and probably for similar reason. Is it because a person was not able to be baptized, or a person rejected obeying God.
Scripture that says salvation comes at the point of faith in Jesus include Acts 16:31; Jn 1:12; 3:14-18; 3:36; 6:47; 30:31.
Proverbs 30:6 and 1 Corinthians 4:6 are strict warnings not to add to God's word. If you say that Mark 16:16 states what happens to those who believe and are not baptized, when that verse is silent on that, you are adding to God's word.
While some people, called ultra-dispensationalists, say we are not to be baptized today, that is wrong. Baptism, along with other works, are in fact involved in salvation; they are an output, not an input. Baptism and other works are the obedient response of a saved person, not the work of a lost person.
John 3:4-6 "'How can a man be born when he is old?' Nicodemus asked. 'Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!' Jesus answered, 'I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." (NIV)

Q: Does John 3:5 imply a person must be baptized in water to be saved?

A: No, Jesus blood saves. Water would not save Nicodemus any more than it would save the thief on the cross. First five reasons why did does not teach that, and then what it does teach.
Why it does not teach that:
On the surface, this might sound like one of the strongest verses supporting that you must be baptized to be saved. However, four points completely eliminate that teaching from this verse.
1. Thief on the cross:
If John 3:5 taught that no unbaptized person can be saved, then the thief on the cross could not be saved, contradicting Luke 23:43.
2. Said before the resurrection too:
If someone notices that the thief on the cross was before the resurrection, this command was before the resurrection too.
3. Jesus' disciples baptized before the crucifixion:
Do not forget that believers WERE to be baptized before the resurrection; otherwise why were Jesus' disciples baptizing in John 4:2?
4. Contradicts believe only passages:
Saying water baptism were essential for salvation, whether before or after the resurrection, John 3:16 "whoever believes in him", Romans 10:9-10, and other verses that say our point of contact with salvation is our belief or faith. There is no work, of any category, involved, as Ephesians 2:8-10 teaches.
5. God is understanding:
Even one Church of Christ pastor told me that God is understanding of believers who are not baptized but did not reject water baptism. He and I agree on this. But if God can be "understanding" then getting baptized is still an important command to be followed, but no longer "ties the hands of God Almighty" if a person dies before being baptized. In contrast to this, I heard of a Church of Christ boy who was killed in a car accident on his way to being baptized. Would you teach that he is in Hell now, despite his intent?
What it does teach:
Christians see at least two truths Jesus is teaching here.
1. Do-over:
We were born as sinners, with a sinful nature and we need to be born again. "...born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit". A lost person reforming themselves into salvation does not work; we must be born again, and have the Holy Spirit living inside of us (Romans 8:10,11,15).
2. Baptism visibly joins us to the kingdom of God now:
Genuine believers will go to heaven eventually, but we are a part of the kingdom of God now. Believing intellectual facts is not enough (James 2:19), saving faith includes trusting Jesus as our Lord. We pledge our life to God, our Master, and one of the acts of an obedient believer is to be baptized. Baptism is not just a bath, but an outward sign of an inward pledge.
Acts 2:37-38 "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' Peter replied, '[ya'll] Repent and [he/she] be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ eis the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (NIV) [remission of sins in the NKJV, aphesin (Strong's 859, from 863]

Yet Acts 10:43: "To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission/forgiveness of sins." (NKJV) (forgiveness in NIV)

Q: Does Acts 2:37-38 prove a person must be baptized in water to be saved?

A: No, you cannot base a major doctrine solely on
1. Contradicts Acts 10:43
2. A grammatical error: Repent is second person plural [ya'll] and baptized is third person singular, so the forgiveness of sins here only modifies the second part: baptized, not the forgiveness of sins too.
3. An ambiguous use of a single word. The Greek word here, eis (Strong's 1519), like the English word "for" can mean many things, and it can mean "because of [the past]" as well as "to cause [the future]"
4. Choosing the ambiguous use that contradicts scriptural meaning. In Mk 1:4; Lk 1:77; 3:3b John the Baptist was "preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (NKJV) and the words for remission / forgiveness are the same in Acts 2:38 and Lk 3:3 in Greek, as they are in English. Do you believe that baptism was essential for salvation prior to Jesus; ministry with John the Baptist? (Most Christians would say no.) Of course the thief on the cross was not allowed to get down and get baptized before Jesus said he would be with Him in paradise.
As for details, here are some examples of different meanings of eis.
Eis
mean in order to cause

Lk 5:14 Jesus told the cleansed leper to show himself to the priests as Moses commanded eis a testimony to them.
Eis
means "in [the]"

Mt 10:41 "receives a prophet eis name of the prophet" ... "receives a just one eis name of the just one"
Eis
means "because of"

Mt 3:11 "John baptized eis repentance. If eis could only mean "to cause" in Acts 2:38, then eis would have to baptize to cause repentance in Mt 3:11
Mt 12:41 [Ninevites] "repented eis the preaching of Jonah"
Eis
means "into"

Rom 5:12 "sin eis the world entered"
Rom 6:3 "all who were baptized into Christ Jesus, eis the death of Him were baptized."
Lk 14:23 "Go eis the ways and hedges"
Acts 22:10 "Bring [Paul] eis the fortress
Eis
means "in"

Acts 10:43 "through the name of Him [Jesus everyone believing eis Him.
Mk 1:9 Jesus was baptized of John eis Jordan.
Acts 19:3 Ephesians baptized eis John's baptism
Eis
means "about" or "in reference to"

Acts 2:25 David speaks eis him
Eis
means "towards"

Rom 5:8 "of Himself love eis us God,"
Eis
means "to"

Jn 4:5 "He [Jesus] comes eis a city of Samaria"
Jn 11:31 "She goes eis the tomb"
Green's literal translation says, "...baptized each of you on the name of Jesus Christ to forgiveness of sins." Wuest's Expanded Translation says "and let each one of you be baptized upon the ground of your confession of belief in the sum total of all that Jesus Christ is in His glorious Person, this baptismal testimony being in relation to the fact that your sins have been put away,"
The Greek word eis, is a less precise word that English. Thayer's A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament 20th printing 1979 (Zondervan) spends almost six pages discussing the Greek word eis. On p.183 he writes, "[Preposition] governing the Accusative, and denoting entrance into, or direction and limit: into, to, towards, for, among" It has a variety of uses, but Thayer classifies Rom 5:12 as Properly of Place. He says, "4. of the limit to which ; with acc. of place, as far as, even to : ... Lk 14:23 ; with [accusative plural] or pers. to, unto; Acts 23:15 ... Ro. v.12; xvi.10; 2 Co ix. 5 ... x.14." Just prior to this he writes "3. of motion (not into a place itself, but) in a vicinity of a place; where it may be rendered to, near, towards..." Examples include Mk 3:7, Jn 4:5;11:31,38;20:1,3. In Rom 5:8 (eis) means unto, towards or one [Thayer p.184]. In Rom 5:12 and 15 (eis) is equivalent to the Latin in and ad [Thayer p.186].
In conclusion, for verses 16 and 18, one can see why most major English translations (NKJV, NASB, NIV, and Wuest) render this as "resulting" or "bringing". This more precisely conveys the meaning than simply translating "to" as the KJV does.
Acts 22:16 [Ananias told Paul] "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." (NIV)
Yet Acts 22:13a "He stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive our sight!'..." (NIV)


Q: Does Acts 22:16 prove a person must be baptized in water to be saved?

A: No. Saul/Paul was already saved by then, for Ananias called him "brother Saul" in Acts 22:13. Baptism is an emblem of washing our sins away. But even if someone that this was literally washing their sins away, they would probably still agree with three things.
1) If it was the liquid water that literally took away the sins, then future sins would not be taken way unless a person was baptized again and again.
2) It is not the water that is special, but rather the water is an identification with the blood of Christ.
3) It does not say people can have sins washed away without baptism. God is not incapable of taking ways the sins of the thief on the cross, and early Christians who were martyred before they had the opportunity to be baptized.
So it is not the drops of water that take away anything. Rather it is the pledge of a good conscience before God that connects us with Christ's blood, and baptism is an acknowledgement, and emblem, of that.
Rom 6:3-4 "Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized in to Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just a Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (NIV)

Q: Does Rom 6:3-4, prove a person must be baptized in water to be saved?

A: No this verse uses a spiritual illustration from the normal experience of baptism that Christians normally have, but it does not mention the people who were not baptized or any power in the water. Rather it shows that our baptism visibly signified our decision to identify with Christ's death, and likewise with His resurrection. Paul's teaching here has similarities to Colossians 2:11-14. We have been "circumcised", not in the Old Testament way, but in the New Testament way. Colossians 2:12 says, "having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead."
1 Cor 6:11 "And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God." (NIV)

Q: Does 1 Cor 6:11 show that believers must be immersed to be baptized?

A: We are cleansed or washed in Christ. But the Greek word here, apeloussathe, (Strong's 628) is not related to baptism. I do not know that Church of Christ people do not try to appeal to this verse very often, but occasionally they might grasp at it.
Gal 3:26-27 "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, (27) for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (NIV)


Q: Does Gal 3:26-27 prove a person must be baptized in water to be saved?

A: No, this verse does not mention salvation, but it shows some of the importance of baptism after salvation. Baptism is an outward, external sign; we agree that the water is not magic; its soaking into our skin does not do anything. Nevertheless baptism is an external clothing with Christ symbolic of both an external and internal change.
External:
We need to be externally clothed with Christ as a sign to the world and a visible sign of our joining God's kingdom and a pledge of ourselves toward God. As a soldier puts on a uniform we put on baptism. The uniform does not make a soldier; it is what a soldier is commanded to put on. Water does not make a Christian, baptism is what a Christian is commanded to do.
Symbol of internal change:
Baptism is an outward symbol of an inward change: believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit; who now lives in us. (1 John 4:13; Rom 8:9-11)
Eph 5:26 "To make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word," (NIV)

Titus 3:5 "he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior" (NIV)


Q: Do Eph 5:26 and Tt 3:5 prove that a person must be baptized in water to be saved?

A: No, Titus 3:5 refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, On Ephesians 5:25, rather than answer myself, I will let Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of the Restoration Movement speak. He taught various things at various time, but here is what he wrote in Design by Baptism by Alexander Campbell p.262.
"In this sense we are to understand what is said by Paul, that Christ sanctifieth and cleanseth the church 'with washing of water by the word.' Eph 5:26, and in another place, that 'according to His mercy he saved us, but he washing of regeneration, and of renewing of the Holy Ghost' Titus 3:5, and by Peter that 'baptism doeth save us' 1 Pet. 3:21, For it is not the intention of Paul to signify that our ablution and salvation are completed by water, or that water contains in itself the virtue to purify, regenerate, and renew; nor did Peter mean that it was the cause of salvation, but only the knowledge and assurance of it is received in this sacrament: what is sufficiently evident from the words they have used. For Paul connects together the 'word of life' and 'the baptism of water;' as if he had said, our ablution and sanctification are announced to us by the Gospel, and by baptism this message is confirmed. And Peter after having said the baptism doth save us, immediately adds, that it is 'not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God' which proceeds from faith. But on the contrary, baptism promises us no other purification than by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ; which is emblematically represented by water, on account of its resemblance to washing and cleansing."
Col 2:11-12 "In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, (12) having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through you faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead." (NIV)


Q: Does Col 2:11-12 show that believers must be immersed to be baptized?

A: This only says that we are buried with Christ in baptism. Colossians 2:11-12 discusses circumcision in the Old Testament and baptism in the New Testament. No one in the Old Testament was declared righteous by circumcision, especially since only half of infants were circumcised.
Heb 10:22 "let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." (NIV)


Q: Does Heb 10:22 show that believers must be immersed to be baptized?

A: In Hebrews 10:22 "having been washed with water" does nothing to save us. In fact, the washing itself does NOT save us according to 1 Peter 3:21. Rather believers' bodies are washed with water in baptism as an emblem of their pledge of accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior.
As a side note, the Greek words here are having been sprinkled (errantismenoi, Strong's 4472), having been washed is leloumemoi Strong's 3068), neither of which, of course is baptism.
1 Pet 3:20b-21 "days of Noah wile the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also - not the removal of dirt from the body but he pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ," (NIV)


Q: Does 1 Pet 3:20b-21 prove a person must be baptized in water to be saved?

A: No. Baptism is the normal response of a follower of Christ, but it is neither essential to salvation nor prior to salvation for five reasons.
1.
Both Noah and Abraham were obedient servants of God prior to the flood and testing with Isaac
2.
1 Peter 3:21 says it is NOT the water, but the pledge of a good conscience before God.
3.
It does not refer to people who made a pledge but were not able to get baptized.
4.
The water does not take the place of the cross. 5. Neither water nor faith are a way to heaven. There is no other way to Heaven except through Christ (Acts 4:12; John 14:6),
5.
The Bible also uses word save in the fourth tense (of working out our salvation. So baptism only saves in the on-going sense that we can turn others from sin (James 5:20) we can save ourselves (Acts 2:40), we can save others (1 Cor 7:16, 9:22; 1 Tim 4:16)
However, as 1 Peter 3:20b-21 shows, baptism is the normal way we show our acceptance and faith in what Christ did for us. A person is to show their pledge of a good conscience towards God by water baptism, but if they cannot, this verse does not say there is no other way to show acceptance.
Around 202 A.D. the martyrs Potoiaemina and the soldier Basilides. Other Christian martyrs, and the 2-year catechetical school. Patrick's baptismal candidates

Q: In Mt 4:17; 10:17; Mk 1:15; Lk 8:10; Jn 3:5 are the kingdom of God and Kingdom of heaven identical, or is there a slight difference between the two?
A: Many have seen them as identical; you will not be a part of one if you are not a part of the other. Matthew uses both terms, and Mark, Luke, and John use only the kingdom of God. Jesus uses both terms in adjacent verses in Matthew 19:23-24. Others see a slight difference; the kingdom of heaven is where all believers go when we die, and the kingdom of God is what we belong to now when we are saved.
Regardless of the individual words, we can all agree that our salvation has both a "now" aspect on earth and a future aspect in heaven (1 Cor 13:12; Php 1:21-24) that will not be realized until we reach heaven. In John 3:5 some think water refers to amniotic fluid when a baby is born, but others think it refers to baptism. It cannot mean Jesus told Nicodemus that a person cannot be saved unless they are baptized, unless the thief on the cross was not saved! But it can mean that a person is not a visible part of God's kingdom on earth until they are baptized. Similar to this, many churches do not want someone to take the Lord's Supper until they are baptized.
See the Wycliffe Bible Dictionary p.991 for more info.
Nevertheless, as Jesus spoke foreshadowing his death and communion in John 6:51-56, Jesus spoke not only foreshadowing Christian baptism, but they were already very familiar with baptism for repentance, thanks to John.
This view is advocated by:
John Chrysostom (392-407 A.D.) Homilies of St. John Homily 25
Gregory Nanzianzus (330-391 A.D.) Oration on Holy Baptism ch.8
F.F. Bruce in Hard Sayings of the Bible p.495-496
Jamieson, Fausset, Brown
Harper's Bible Commentary
.
3a. The water stands for baptismal regeneration.
The early church fathers held this view.
However, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : New Testament p.281 mentions that this interpretation contradicts being saved by faith alone, as Ephesians 2:8-9 and John 3:16 show.
This view is advocated by
Justin Martyr (wrote about 138-165 A.D.) First Apology chapter 61
Irenaeus (182-188 A.D.) in fragment 34
Tertullian (200-220 A.D.) in On Baptism ch. 12
Cyprian (wrote 248-258 A.D.) in Epistle 71.
Gregory Nanzianzus (330-391 A.D.) Oration on Holy Baptism chapter 8.
Basil of Cappadocia (357-379 A.D.) On the Spirit 15:35
John of Damascus Exposition of the Orthodox Faith chapter 9
Ambrose of Milan (340-397 A.D.) Of the Holy Spirit 3.10.63-64
Constitutions of the Holy Apostles
(c.80-190 A.D.) 6.3.15 (This was a spurious work, which had an early date. Among other things, it also supports infant Baptism.)
However, interpreting John 3:5 this way sounds close to making baptism (whether John's baptism or Christian baptism) a requirement for salvation.
Nevertheless, John's baptism was looking for salvation, not something that brought salvation. In Acts 2:38, Peter said the people had to repent and baptized and they would receive the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 4:2 said some were not saved because they did not share the faith (or combine it with faith.) Things such as repentance, faith, and obedience, including obedience in water baptism are evidence of us receiving salvation, not that which saves us.
This view is advocated by:
The Applied New Testament Commentary p.368
Matthew Henry's Commentary
says that "it is probably that Christ had an eye to the ordinance of baptism."
4. Water stands for conversion.
Converts to Judaism went through a baptism ceremony. Jesus was implying that one had to convert to experience the new birth. Thus Jesus was saying "by conversion and by the spirit". This view does not preclude believing other views, too.
However, while Jewish converts were washed, a more common scene was Jews washing for ritual purification. This viewpoint is perhaps not so much false, as too narrow a view of 3.
This view is advocated by:
The IVP Bible Commentary : New Testament (1993) p.270.
5. Water stands for the baptizing ministry of John the Baptist, and the Spirit for Jesus' ministry.
No one at that time could think of "baptism" and "new things" in the same sentence without thinking of John the Baptist's ministry.
This view is advocated by F.B. Meyer in The Gospel of John p.64. The Bible Knowledge Commentary : New Testament p.281 gives five views, but commends only this view as having "the merit of historical propriety as well as theological acceptability." The Life Application Bible gives various views, one of which is the repentance that John the Baptist's ministry signified.
6. Water is an image for the pouring out of the Spirit in Old Testament times.
Jesus said in John 7:38, "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." (NKJV). The New Geneva Study Bible p.1676 says that while this is not an exact quote of any Old Testament Scripture, it can be a general reference to both Isaiah 44:3 and Ezekiel 36:25-27. Titus 3:5 has very similar phrasing to John 3:5, saying "washing of rebirth and renewal of/by the Holy Spirit" While Acts showed some special cases, the norm was for Christians to be baptized with literal water and the Holy Spirit.
However, water is used for ritual washings, not the pouring of the Spirit in the Torah. Also, the Believer's Bible Commentary p.1478 points out that if the water represented nothing more than the ministry of the Spirit, then the verse would seem to say "unless one is born of the Spirit and the Spirit", which would be redundant.
1 John 5:8 speaks of the water, spirit, and blood. Since the spirit and blood are different, the water is different, too.
This view is advocated by the New Geneva Study Bible p.1665.
The Companion Bible
says it is "spiritual water" as opposed to literal water. The IVP Bible Commentary : New Testament says that the Greek can either be translated "water and the spirit, or water, that is, the spirit."
MY CONCLUSION:
1. is not particularly compelling. It only makes sense if you downplay the precision of the Greek, and think Jesus was telling Nicodemus one had to be physically born.
2. relies on Jesus chiding Nicodemus for understanding scripture that was not written yet. For some, this view is necessitated by the opinion that if "baptism" has to mean the error of baptismal regeneration, it cannot be baptism.
3a. is unbiblical, as Acts 10 shows that people could be saved and receive the Holy Spirit prior to water baptism.
3b, 4, and 5. can all be tied together. This view has the merit of the plain meaning, as well as the universal understanding of the Greek-speaking early church.
6. has no merit, except as a secondary implication of 3b, 4, and 5.
Perhaps we should focus less on "what this would mean to me" and observe "what this would mean to Nicodemus and early Christians". The most likely answer is a combination of 3b, 4, and 5. While views 2 and 6 are implied symbolism, they would not be recognized by Nicodemus as its main meaning, and were not recognized by any known Greek-speaking Christians.
When Critics Ask p.406 also discusses some of the views, without committing to a particular one.

Q: In Jn 3:5, is "baptismal regeneration" true, the belief that water baptism is necessary for salvation?
A: No. The Gentiles who were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues in Acts 10:44-48, prior to being baptized with water, probably did not think so. Jesus apparently did not think so either when He spoke to the thief on his right. One could try to argue that the thief on the cross was prior to Jesus' resurrection, but then Jesus' words to Nicodemus were spoken, and were true, prior to Jesus' resurrection, too. Of course all of this was prior to the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and there being Christian baptism; John's baptism and Old Testament washings were all they knew.
However, if an interpretation of a verse makes part of the verse without any meaning whatsoever, then that interpretation undoubtedly is incorrect. So what is the meaning of Jesus' words here?
The answer is implied in Luke 7:29-30, where it was said the Pharisees and experts in the Law had rejected God's purpose for themselves. The reason given is that they had not been baptized by John. Water baptism is neither a meaningless ritual nor merely an optional thing, like choir practice, to show special love to God. If a person with full knowledge rejects water baptism, and the truth it represents, they have rejected God. Unless they turn around, they are not going to Heaven.
See also 1001 Bible Questions Answered p.118-119, When Critics Ask p.406, When Cultists Ask p.165-166, and the Complete Book of Bible Answers p.210-211 for more info.



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