Refuting Arguments for Universalism

Psalm 22:27: All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.[1]

Matthew 18:21-22: Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”[2]

John 1:29: The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”[3]

John 3:17: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.[4]

John 4:42: They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

John 6:33: For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

John 6:51: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

John 12:32: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.[5]

Acts 3:21: Whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.[6]

Romans 5:18-19: Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.[7]

Romans 11:26: And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”[8]

Romans 11:32: For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.[9]

1 Corinthians 15:22: For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.[10]

2 Corinthians 5:19: That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

Ephesians 1:10: As a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.[11]

Philippians 2:10-11: So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[12]

Colossians 1:20: And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.[13]

1 Timothy 2:4-6: Who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.[14]

1 Timothy 4:10: For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.[15]

Titus 2:11: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.[16]

2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.[17]

1 John 2:2: He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.[18]

1 John 4:14: And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

*Universalism is the belief that all men will one day be saved. Another form of universalism does not deny that there is a hell, but turns it into a purgatorial state that people can leave. Hell is locked from the inside and people can choose to leave hell of their own free will and enter into heaven. Timothy Ware expresses this belief from an Eastern Orthodox perspective: “Hell is not so much a place where God imprisons humans, as a place where humans, by misusing their free will, choose to imprison themselves. And even in hell the wicked are not deprived of the love of God, but by their own choice they experience as suffering what the saints experience as joy. . . . Hell exists as a final possibility, but several of the Fathers have none the less believed that in the end all will be reconciled to God. It is heretical to say that all must be saved, for this is to deny free will; but it is legitimate to hope that all may be saved. Until the Last Day comes, we must not despair of anyone’s salvation, but must long and pray for the reconciliation of all without exception. No one must be excluded from our loving intercession. . . . Gregory of Nyssa said that Christians may legitimately hope even for the redemption of the devil” (The Orthodox Church, 262). But in contrast to these heretical speculations, Jesus taught that it was better to have never been born than to go to hell (Matt 26:24). What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matt 16:26). The devil and those who follow him will never be redeemed (Matt 25:41-46; Rev 14:9-11; 20:10-15). The idea that people can escape from hell and enter heaven makes a mockery of Jesus’ warning in Matthew 5:29-30. But if people in hell can leave and enter heaven, then it would not be better to cut off your right hand or put out your eye to avoid going there since those who leave it with all their arms and eyes intact would be able to enjoy using them for all eternity while those who mutilated their body would not. Of course, no one in the new heavens and new earth will miss any limbs, but universalism destroys the hypothetical situation Jesus is painting. Universalists make the identical hermeneutical mistakes that Arminians make but thankfully Arminians are inconsistent in their interpretation because they recognize that the Bible teaches that hell is eternal and not purgatorial. A failure to pay close attention to personal pronouns, confusing qualitative terms for quantitative ones, ignoring the context, a precommitment to man’s libertarian free will, and emotional pleas are no substitute for sober exegesis. See also 25. The Wrath of God, 37. The Atonement of Christ, 67. The Necessity of the Gospel, 87. Evangelism, 100. The Final Judgment, and 101. Hell.

[1]Argument: Since all the families of the earth will worship God, that means every family that has ever existed will be saved. Response: “Families” is not a reference to every nuclear family, but to every ethnicity. The message of this verse is the same as that of Revelation 5:9 where people from every tribe will worship God. Not every member of every ethnicity will worship God, but only people “from” every tribe. Not every member of every people group has been redeemed by God, but only those who have been saved out of them. It is only those who follow the Lamb who have been redeemed by him (Rev 14:3-4).

[2]Argument: Because we are called to always forgive those who ask for our forgiveness, it would be inconsistent for God to not forgive those in hell if they ask for forgiveness. Response: It is not inconsistent for God to tell us to always forgive while there is no forgiveness available in the age to come (Matt 12:32; Mark 3:29). This is because forgiveness is available now from God during this age for all who repent. But once this age ends, forgiveness will no longer be available (Luke 16:22-28). In the age to come, God will not forgive anymore and neither will we because there will be no sinners in the new heavens and new earth who can sin against us.

[3]Argument: Because Jesus takes away the sins of every person, there is no basis upon which God can condemn anyone to hell because their sins have been paid for in full. Response: This argument is based on a misunderstanding of how the term “world” is used in Scripture. It is not a quantitative term meaning every single person who has ever lived, lives, or will live, but a qualitative one meaning every people group in the world. The emphasis is ethnological. Christ takes away the sins of every people group because representatives from every nation will be among the redeemed (Rev 5:9). This is in contrast to the particularism of the Old Testament when God was primarily focused on the people of Israel. Now the scope of salvation is for all people groups, both Jews and Gentiles. Only those who are saved have their sins taken away because they alone are saved from the consequences of their sins. Christ is the savior of the world because he actually saves people from every tribe, language, people, and nation. He is the propitiation for all groups of people. This argument is also inconsistent with the kind of universalism that believes in a purgatorial hell. If Christ has actually paid the penalty for their sins, then they should never go to hell at all. The Bible always connects hell with punishment for sin (Matt 5:29-30; 25:46; Rev 20:12-13). Why are they being punished in hell for their sins, even if only temporarily, if Jesus paid their penalty in full?

[4]See the note on John 1:29 for this verse and for the other “world” passages.

[5]Argument: Because Christ will draw “all people” to himself, that means everyone will be saved. Response: “All people” in John 12:32 does not mean every single individual, but every ethnicity. All kinds of people will be saved by Christ. That is why John specifically mentions the Greeks who were listening to Jesus before this verse (12:20). This salvation includes Greeks as well, not just Jews. See the note on John 6:44-45 in 70. Election.

[6]Argument: Since all things will be restored when Christ returns, that means every creation of God will be restored to fellowship with him. Response: The restoration of all things is not specifically in reference to the restoration of individuals to God, but the restoration of the created order by freeing it from the curse of the fall (Matt 19:28; Rom 8:19-23; 2 Pet 3:10-13; Rev 21:5). This is the cosmic reconciliation that occurs at the second coming which reverses the results of the fall by abolishing death forever. The lake of fire is not included in this because it is not part of the new heavens and new earth. That is why Paul does not mention those who are “under the earth” in Colossians 1:20 because they are not restored to God.

[7]Argument: Because “all men” receive justification and life, that means all men who are descended from Adam will receive eternal life. Response: Paul in Romans 5 is talking about two different humanities: one from Adam and one from Christ. All men are in Adam because all men are descended from Adam. But not all men are in Christ because not all men “receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” (5:17). Paul limits those who are in Christ to “those who receive” the grace of God in the previous verse to make sure that he is not misunderstood when he directly compares what Adam has done to what Christ has done. All who are in Christ are also in Adam but not all who are in Adam are in Christ. The “all men” who receive justification are all of those who are in Christ. All men in that humanity are saved but not all in Adam participate in it. Everyone who is in Christ is justified just as everyone who is in Adam has been condemned for what he did. In Paul’s writings, justification is by faith, but not all men have faith (2 Thess 3:2). It is only through faith that we are able to join ourselves to this humanity and participate in union with Christ (Rom 10:1-4). If Paul believed that all men will be saved, then why was he willing to be condemned by God if it would mean the salvation of the Jewish people? (Rom 9:1-3). See John Murray’s commentary on Romans for a more detailed look at this passage.

[8]Argument: Since every Israelite who has ever lived will be saved, that means all Gentiles will be saved as well. Response: Paul is not teaching that every Israelite who has ever lived will be saved. “All Israel” is every Israelite who is among the elect. Not all Israelites are among this group (Rom 9:1-3; 10:1-4). See the note on this passage in 84. The Church and Israel.

[9]“All” is being used qualitatively to refer to all people groups: both Jews and Gentiles.

[10]The “all” who are made alive refer to all of those who are in Christ. The phrase “in Christ” limits the extent of the “all” who are raised to everlasting life. Since not all are in Christ, not all are raised to eternal life. See the note on Romans 5:18-19.

[11]See the note on Acts 3:21.

[12]Argument: Because “every knee” will bow to Christ and confess him as Lord, that means everyone will be saved. Response: Every knee will bow to Christ. But some will bow the knee willingly and others will do it unwillingly before being cast into hell. An example of this is Revelation 3:9: “Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie – behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you.” This language is drawn from Isaiah 49:23 and 60:14.

[13]Argument: Since “all things” are reconciled to God, that means all people will be saved. Response: Paul leaves out “under the earth” which he includes in Philippians 2:10. The “all things” that are reconciled to Christ excludes the underworld or sphere where demons dwell. Those who are “under the earth” do not have peace with God. Since those in hell are “under the earth,” they are not included in the new creation which has been reconciled to God and set free from its bondage to decay. The blessing of reconciliation in Romans 4:6-8 is only for those who believe.

[14]Argument: Because God desires to save “all people” and Christ was given as a ransom for them, all men will be saved. Response: “All” in this passage is being used qualitatively, not quantitatively. Paul in verse one says we should pray for all people, but he defines what he means by “all people” in the next verse: “For kings and all who are in high positions.” Kings and those in high positions are classes or kinds of men. All kinds of men will be saved by God because the elect come from every walk of life. There is no category of people for whom we are not to pray. We are called to pray for all classes of people, but we cannot pray for every single individual in the world. We do not pray for those who are in hell and we do not pray for those who have committed the sin that leads to death (1 John 5:16). In verse seven, Paul mentions “the Gentiles,” who are another class of people who will be saved. Because God will save every class of men, he ordained Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles. In verse five, Paul says that Christ intercedes on behalf of men. But Christ does not intercede on behalf of every single individual in the world, only for those who believe in him and are therefore members of the new covenant (Heb 7:25; 9:15). The saving power of his blood is limited to those who are in the new covenant. He intercedes on behalf of man in the sense that there is no category of men from whom his saving intercession does not reach because all kinds of men have been ransomed by him.

[15]See the note on this verse in 57. Common Grace.

[16]“All people” is being used qualitatively, not quantitatively. Both Jews and Gentiles are saved by Christ.

[17]Argument: Because God is not willing that any should perish, all people will eventually reach repentance and be saved either in this life or in hell. Response: It is true that there is a sense in which God desires the salvation of all men indiscriminately because he commands all men to repent (Acts 17:30; Rom 2:4). With respect to his love and mercy, he does not take delight in the death of sinners (Ezek 18:23; 33:11). This verse reveals that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love because he does not bring judgment upon sinners right away. This desire is with respect to his revealed will or will of command whereby he demands of all men faith and repentance (Isa 45:22). But God’s secret will or will of decree is that only the elect will be saved. A closer examination of this verse reveals that the “all” whom God is not willing should perish is referring back to the “you” to whom God is showing patience. Peter is addressing the bride of Christ, the “beloved” of God (3:1). But the bride of Christ did not just exist then. The elect exist throughout all of human history. Peter is explaining the reason why Christ has not returned yet: not all of the elect bride of Christ has been brought to repentance. When the last member of Christ’s bride has been brought to salvation, then Christ will return to rescue his people. See 68. The Free Offer of the Gospel.

[18]See 37. The Atonement of Christ for the explanation of this verse.

Refuting Arguments for Annihilationism and Soul Sleep

Job 7:9: As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up.[1]

Psalm 37:20: But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish – like smoke they vanish away.[2]

Psalm 88:11: Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?[3]

Psalm 115:17: The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence.

Isaiah 26:14: They are dead, they will not live; they are shades, they will not arise; to that end you have visited them with destruction and wiped out all remembrance of them.[4]

Isaiah 66:24: And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.[5]

Ecclesiastes 3:19-21: For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?[6]

Ecclesiastes 9:5: For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.

Amos 8:14: Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria, and say, “As your god lives, O Dan,” and, “As the Way of Beersheba lives,” they shall fall, and never rise again.

Malachi 4:1: For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.[7]

Matthew 3:12: His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.[8]

Matthew 10:28: And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.[9]

Romans 2:7: To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.[10]

Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.[11]

Philippians 1:28: And not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.[12]

1 Thessalonians 4:13: But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.[13]

2 Thessalonians 1:9: They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.[14]

2 Timothy 1:10: And which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.[15]

Hebrews 10:39: But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.[16]

2 Peter 2:6: If by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly.[17]

2 Peter 3:7: But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.[18]

*Annihilationism or conditional immortality is the belief that the wicked will be annihilated and cease to exist rather than spending eternity in hell. Soul sleep is the belief that there is no conscious existence between death and the resurrection. But the term “soul sleep” is a misnomer since those who believe in it are anthropological monists who deny any distinction between the body and the soul. The two beliefs are included together here since the same proof texts for soul sleep are also used to argue for annihilationism. The two most prominent groups who teach annihilationism and soul sleep are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists. The basic hermeneutical problem with both these beliefs is that they misinterpret analogical statements as univocal ones. Simply quoting every verse in the Bible that uses the word “destroy” does not prove annihilationism when the rest of Scripture interprets this destruction language as eternal punishment in hell. Annihilationism cannot account for degrees of punishment in hell since in annihilationism everyone receives the same punishment (Luke 10:12-14; 12:47-48; Rom 2:5). The Bible teaches that the torment of hell is eternal in duration (Matt 18:8; 25:41-46; Mark 9:48; Luke 16:22-28; Jude 1:13; Rev 14:9-11; 20:10-15). It would be better for those who go to hell to have never been born (Matt 26:24). But annihilationism results in the same fate as having never been born: nonexistence. On the day of judgment, the wicked will desire annihilation which shows that the punishment of hell is worse than a cessation of existence (Rev 6:15-17). See the note on Revelation 22:15 in 101. Hell for a list of historical references to the belief in hell. Despite the claims to the contrary, annihilationism was never taught in the Christian church until Arnobius in the late third century. I have written more on this subject in my article “Responding to Arguments for Annihilationism” at See also 97. The Intermediate State and 101. Hell.

[1]Argument: Because those who go down to Sheol do not come up, there is no future resurrection of the dead for the wicked. Response: The Bible often speaks phenomenologically from our limited perspective. From our perspective, those who die do not come back to life. We have never witnessed such a thing. But Job 19:25-27 does teach that there will be a future day of resurrection. That is why we must believe by faith that such an event will take place in the future (Heb 11:1). If this verse is interpreted to mean that the wicked will never be raised from the dead, that would contradict all those passage which teach that they will be raised bodily before being cast into hell (Dan 12:2; Matt 12:36; John 5:27-29; 12:48; Acts 24:15; Heb 9:27; 1 Pet 4:4-5; 2 Pet 2:9; Rev 20:12-15). See 100. The Final Judgment.

[2]Argument: Since the psalmist says the wicked will vanish away like smoke, the wicked will one day cease to exist. Response: The wicked will vanish away from the earth, not because they will cease to exist, but because they will no longer exist on the earth with God’s people. Their existence will be in the lake of fire instead of the earth (Rev 20:10, 15). The wicked will not be present in the new heavens and new earth, but they will be present in hell outside the new Jerusalem (Rev 22:15). They will not be part of the redeemed humanity.

[3]From our perspective as humans on earth, those who have died do not praise God. We have never seen a dead person praising God before. But Revelation 6:9-11 does say that Christian martyrs are praising God after being beheaded. See the note on Job 7:9.

[4]The wicked who once ruled over Israel are now departed spirits. They will not rise in the sense that they will never return to torment God’s people. They will also not rise in the sense that they will not be raised to eternal life, but to eternal condemnation. Isaiah does teach the resurrection of the dead in 26:19. See the note on Job 7:9.

[5]Argument: Because those in hell are described as “dead bodies,” they are no longer conscious and have ceased to exist. Response: They are called dead bodies because the eschatological passages in the Old Testament depict the future as an idealized present. Isaiah is using the language of accommodation to depict those in hell as dead bodies because they have been defeated by God and no longer pose a threat to God’s people. The imagery is that of the aftermath of a climactic battle in which the dead bodies of the enemy soldiers are being burned up and eaten by worms. But this fire is no natural fire because it is one that never dies out. That is why this passage was interpreted by Jewish writers in the intertestamental period to describe an eternal hell of suffering. This is also how Jesus interpreted the passage in Mark 9:43-48. If this verse is teaching annihilation, then the fire would one day die out and the worm would die of starvation because the dead bodies would eventually be consumed leaving no fuel for the fire or food for the worms. That is the exact point of Revelation 14:11. The smoke of their torment always goes up because they are the fuel for the fire. The fire never runs out of fuel. If they cease to exist, then the smoke would cease to go up because there would be nothing left to burn and they would have eternal rest from their torment. If hell is annihilation, then I can imagine sinners on the day of judgment in Matthew 25:41-46 and Revelation 20:10-15 mocking Jesus while he is pronouncing judgment on them, “Hurry up and throw us into hell so we can go back to sleep.” But there will be no mocking on that day, only terror.

[6]This is another example of phenomenological language which is common in Ecclesiastes. See the note on Job 7:9.

[7]Argument: Because Malachi says the wicked “will be stubble” that will be consumed, the fate of the wicked is annihilation. Response: Malachi is drawing an analogy between the burning up of a plant and the destiny of those who are evil. But this language is analogical, not literal. The wicked are not literally a plant, but their end will be the fire of hell. We must interpret statements of analogy in light of those verses which explicitly teach on the nature of hell.

[8]John’s words are drawn from Malachi 4:1 which is unsurprising considering that verse five is a prophecy concerning the coming of John the Baptist. John is drawing an analogy between the burning of chaff and the future day of judgment when the wicked will be cast into hell. But as with all analogies, there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the two. Where the analogy differs from reality must be determined by consulting other passages of Scripture on the nature of hell. The problem with the annihilationist use of this verse and others is that it takes the part of the analogy that does not correspond with reality and literalizes it while overlooking those verses which do teach that hell is eternal in duration.

[9]Argument: Because Jesus says body and soul will be “destroyed” in hell, the wicked will cease to exist in hell. Response: To understand what Jesus means by “destroy,” we must consult the rest of his sayings on hell. Jesus taught that hell is not annihilation, but endless conscious punishment (Matt 25:46; 26:24; Mark 9:48; Luke 16:22-28). To literalize “destroy” based on our understanding of the term in this age instead of the age to come which lasts forever fails to interpret Scripture with Scripture and makes Jesus contradict himself. Body and soul will be destroyed in hell, but in the sense that they will be cast into hell to experience a destruction which never ends. The irony of the use of this verse by annihilationists is that soul and body are distinguished from each other. To kill the body is not the same as killing the soul. But almost all annihilationists are monists who do not believe the soul is distinct from the body.

[10]Argument: Because immortality and eternal life are gifts from God, if the wicked live forever in hell, then that would mean that they too are immortal and have eternal life. Response: The annihilationist interpretation of immortality and eternal life in Scripture is completely reductionistic. Reducing them to mere endless existence diminishes the glory of eternal blessedness with God and conformity to the image of Christ. That is why the “gospel” of annihilationism is reduced to a message about how you can live forever on planet earth. This gospel does not save us from the wrath of God, but from a mere cessation of existence. But people who are atheists already believe that they will cease to exist one day. Annihilation does not scare them, but the wrath of God forever in hell does. God in annihilationism is simply giving the wicked what they want. Those in hell do not have eternal life or immortality because Scripture defines eternal life as eternal communion with God. That is why Jesus can say that everyone who believes in him will never die even though they will all die physically unless he comes back before then (John 11:26). Death is separation from God and life is fellowship with him. That is why Adam and Eve died on the day that they ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). Adam and Eve were not annihilated that day, but they were separated from God because of their sin. That is why hell is called “the second death” (Rev 20:14; 21:8). The first death is literal death when the soul is unnaturally separated from the body. In the first death, we are separated from those on earth, but not from God. It is “first” not only because it comes before the second death, but because it is that death which corresponds with this age. The second death is eternal because it is that death which corresponds with the age to come which never ends. The second death separates us not just from the earth, but from God as well.

[11]See the note on Romans 2:7.

[12]See the note on Matthew 10:28.

[13]Argument: Because the saints who have died are said to be “asleep,” they are no longer conscious and will not be until the resurrection. Response: They are said to be asleep, not because they are unconscious, but because Paul is using euphemistic language to describe death. They are asleep in Jesus in the sense that they are now at rest from their suffering and sin (Heb 4:11; Rev 7:13-17).

[14]Argument: Because Paul calls hell “eternal destruction,” hell is an eternal cessation of existence. Response: What is interesting about the phrase “eternal destruction” is that the same expression is used in 4 Maccabees 10:15 as well: “No, by the blessed death of my brothers, by the eternal destruction of the tyrant, and by the everlasting life of the pious, I will not renounce our noble brotherhood.” Since the phrases are nearly identical in Greek, this demonstrates a link in the theology of Paul and the author of 4 Maccabees. While a person could argue that 4 Maccabees is teaching annihilationism in this verse, that would be to overlook the rest of the book. The author writes: “But you, because of your bloodthirstiness toward us, will deservedly undergo from the divine justice eternal torment by fire” (9:9); “Because of this, justice has laid up for you intense and eternal fire and tortures, and these throughout all time will never let you go” (12:12); “Let us not fear him who thinks he is killing us, for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment of God” (13:14-15). If the author of 4 Maccabees can utilize destruction language while still believing in the eternal torment of the wicked, why can’t the authors of the New Testament do the same? Therefore, the use of destruction language does not prove annihilationism any more than it proves that the author of 4 Maccabees was an annihilationist because he used such language. We must interpret Scripture in light of Scripture just as we interpret 4 Maccabees 10:15 in light of the rest of the book.

[15]See the note on Romans 2:7.

[16]See the note on Matthew 10:28.

[17]Argument: Because Peter says that what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of what will happen to the ungodly, that means the ungodly will be literally reduced to ashes in hell and cease to exist. Response: Peter is drawing an analogy between the destruction of those cities and the destruction of the wicked in hell. But the way in which the wicked will be destroyed is not the same as those cities in every way. There is not a one-to-one correspondence between the two. Fire and sulfur will not literally fall from the sky on those in the lake of fire. The similarity is that both of them will meet the judgment of God. We must consult the rest of Scripture to determine how the wicked will be destroyed by God. They are not destroyed in the sense that they cease to exist, but through a never-ending destruction. Their destruction never ends because they will be tormented forever and ever (Rev 20:10). The parallel text in Jude 1:7 tells us that the inhabitants of those cities will undergo a punishment of “eternal fire,” not one that will one day burn out. That is why the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved for them forever (Jude 1:13). See the note on Matthew 3:12.

[18]See the note on Matthew 10:28.

Refuting Arguments for Inclusivism

Genesis 14:18: And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High).[1]

Job 1:1: There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.[2]

Matthew 2:1-2: Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”[3]

John 4:22: You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.[4]

John 15:22-24: If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.[5]

Acts 10:1-2: At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.[6]

Acts 17:23: For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.[7]

Acts 17:26-27: And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.[8]

Acts 17:28: For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.”[9]

Romans 1:19-20: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.[10]

Romans 10:18: But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”[11]

Titus 1:12: One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”[12]

Revelation 5:9: And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”[13]

*Inclusivism is the belief that people can be saved who die having never heard the gospel before. They are “anonymous Christians” who believe in God even though they do not have conscious faith in Christ. This is not the same as pluralism which says that all religions are equally valid means to God. Inclusivism says that salvation only comes through Christ, but a person does not have to be a Christian to be saved. They argue that it would be unfair for God to condemn someone to hell who has never heard the gospel before. God would be unjust to give people enough evidence in creation to condemn them, but not enough evidence to save them. In contrast to inclusivism, the Bible teaches that the proclamation of the gospel and faith in Christ are essential for salvation (Luke 10:16; 12:48; John 3:18, 36; 5:23; 8:24; 10:26-27; 17:20; Rom 1:18-23; 2:12; 8:7-9; 10:9-17; 1 Cor 1:21; Eph 2:12; 1 Thess 4:13-14; 2 Thess 2:13-14; Heb 2:3; 1 John 2:23; 5:5; 2 John 1:9). See also 62. The Depravity of Fallen Man, 67. The Necessity of the Gospel, 74. Faith in Christ, and 87. Evangelism.

[1]Argument: Because Melchizedek was a priest of God, he must have been saved. This means that he was saved without believing the gospel or having access to special revelation. Response: We do not know the extent to which Melchizedek had access to information about God or the gospel. Abraham was saved because God directly revealed himself to him (Gen 12:1-3; 15:5-6). The same could be true with Melchizedek as well. It could be that Melchizedek had access to the uncorrupted oral tradition of the events of Genesis 1-11. He would have been saved through the message of Genesis 3:15 looking forward to the day when the Messiah would come as we look back to the coming of the Messiah. Melchizedek also had access to Abraham who had access to God. To say that Melchizedek did not know about the gospel is presumptuous.

[2]Argument: Because Job was a blameless and upright man who feared God, he was saved without access to special revelation. Response: Job did have access to God’s word in some form according to his words in Job 23:12: “I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.” Because Job had access to God’s word, probably through the oral tradition of Genesis 1-11, he is not in the same category as those who do not have access to the gospel today. He knew about the coming Messiah (Job 19:25). Job was also a monotheist because he declared that God “alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). But those who are members of unreached people groups are not monotheists, but idolaters. And no idolater has eternal life (1 Cor 6:9-10).

[3]Argument: The wise men were pagan astrologers but they were nevertheless saved because they worshiped Christ. Response: The wise men certainly were saved by the time they worshiped Christ in Matthew 2:11. But it does not follow from this that they were already justified before God when they first began their journey. They could have been converted from paganism to the religion of Abraham through their encounter with the gospel in Micah 5:2 while visiting Herod in Jerusalem. If they were already saved before then, it was because they had access to the Torah. As wise men, they would have been familiar with the religious customs and beliefs of the people around them. It is likely that they were already familiar with the beliefs of the Jewish religion before their journey.

[4]Argument: When Jesus says, “You worship what you do not know,” he is affirming that the Samaritans are true worshipers of God even though they did not accurately follow the Torah. Response: The Samaritans may have appeared to worship God outwardly, but they were not saved until they were brought the good news about the Messiah. That is why John says it was not until the woman went and told them about Jesus that they believed (John 4:41-42). The Samaritans are not in the same category as unreached people groups because they had access to the Torah.

[5]Argument: Since the Jews would not have been guilty of sin if Jesus had not come and spoken to them, those who have not heard the gospel are not guilty for their sins until they hear the gospel. Response: Jesus is not saying that they would not be guilty of any sin if he had not come, but only for the sin of rejecting him. In addition to all their other sins, they now have the sin of rejecting Jesus to answer for. “Guilty of” is not in the Greek text. Jesus is saying that they would not have the sin of rejecting him if he had never come. The Jewish leaders were guilty of many sins, not just rejecting Jesus (Matt 23:4-39). If Jesus is teaching that a person is innocent before God until he hears the gospel, then we should never share the gospel with anyone. Jesus never should have told us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth because they are already innocent in God’s eyes (Matt 28:19-20). The gospel would then become a message of death instead of a message of life. It would send more people to hell than it saves.

[6]Argument: How could Cornelius be called a man who feared God and prayed continuously if he was not already saved without the gospel? Response: Acts 11:14 explicitly says that Cornelius was not saved until Peter preached the gospel to him: “He will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” Verse 18 says that Cornelius received eternal life through repentance: “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’” In addition, Cornelius is not in the same category as those who have no access to the gospel because he was a Gentile convert to Judaism who had access to the Old Testament in Greek. See the note on Acts 10:2 in 137. Pelagianism.

[7]Argument: Paul tells the pagans in Athens that they were worshiping the one true God when they worshiped the unknown god. This means that members of other religions are able to worship the same God we do. Response: Paul recognizes that this “unknown god” is not the one true God, but an idol. In verse 16 we read: “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” When Paul makes reference to the unknown god, he does not say, “who therefore you worship,” but “what therefore you worship.” He uses a neuter pronoun in Greek, not a masculine one. This unknown god is an impersonal idol, not the true and living God of Scripture. Paul uses this idol as a means to introduce the subject of the one true God they were ignorant of. If Paul believed that they already worshiped God, then why was he preaching the gospel to them telling them to believe in Jesus to be saved? That fact that they were worshiping idols proved that they were lost. But some people were saved because of Paul’s message demonstrating that they were not saved before Paul brought the gospel to them.

[8]Argument: Because people can “feel their way toward him and find him,” the lost can be saved without the message of the gospel just by believing in God. Response: This verse is a reflection of the revealed will of God in desiring that all men come to salvation. But the assumption that is being made in this argument is that seeking after God to find him can be done without searching out for God’s special revelation. Verse 30 calls the period of time before the coming of Christ “the times of ignorance” because God generally left the pagan nations in ignorance. He chose Israel alone out of all the nations of the world to be his treasured possession. They were called to be a light for the nations. But Israel failed in her mission because of her repeated sinfulness and idolatry. Now that Christ has come, the gospel is to be sent to all nations. God is no longer overlooking the nations in his plan of salvation because he is sending missionaries to them. But God’s secret will is that only the elect will be saved through the gospel. See 70. Election.

[9]Argument: Because Paul quotes from the pagans Epimenides of Crete and Aratus, he is affirming that they worshiped the true God and were saved despite never hearing the gospel. Response: Paul is quoting from them for the purpose of creating a reductio ad absurdum argument. He is exposing the inconsistency of the pagan worldview by demonstrating that it is inconsistent to believe that God is everywhere and that we are his offspring while at the same time worshiping idols. If God is everywhere and we are his offspring, then God cannot be worshiped through idols made of wood and stone. In Aratus’ poem Phaenomena, the one whose offspring we are is not God, but Zeus. Aratus was a polytheist, not a monotheist. The same is true of Epimenides of Crete who in his poem is addressing Zeus, not God.

[10]Argument: Since Paul teaches that what can be known about God is revealed to all men through creation, everyone is capable of believing in God and being saved even without the gospel. Response: This argument completely misses the point Paul is making in this chapter and skips over verse 18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” Creation alone cannot be the instrument of salvation because man by nature suppresses or holds down the knowledge of God that already has been revealed to him. It is only through the gospel that the Holy Spirit works to bring about regeneration because the Spirit’s work is to glorify Christ (John 16:14). The Spirit does not work where Christ is not known or rejected (1 John 4:2-3). The purpose of Romans 1 is to demonstrate that pagans are lost and worthy of condemnation even though they do not have access to the gospel because they have already rejected the one true God who has revealed himself in creation. Because they have willfully turned from God to idols, they are worthy of being condemned for their sins regardless if they have heard the gospel or not. It would have been perfectly just for God to condemn all men to hell for their sins and save no one just as he did with the fallen angels. If anyone is saved, it is only because of God’s grace.

[11]Argument: Since Paul quotes from Psalm 19:4 which is talking about creation, all men have access to the gospel in creation. Response: The original context of Psalm 19:4 is creation, but Paul is reappropriating the verse to now speak about the preaching of the gospel instead of creation. The message of the gospel had spread throughout the known world at that time through the Great Commission. This world is the Roman world of that day. The same word translated as “world” is also used in Luke 2:1 to refer to the Roman census of all the world. Paul does the same thing in Romans 10:6-7 when he reappropriates Deuteronomy 30:12. In its original context, the verse is talking about the law. But Paul reapplies it to the gospel instead of the law. If Paul is teaching in verse 18 that people can be saved through the created order, then that would make Paul contradict himself since he just said before this that the lost cannot believe in the one whom they have never heard and they cannot hear about him without someone preaching to them (10:14).

[12]Argument: Because Paul calls Epimenides of Crete a prophet, he must have been saved. Response: Paul calls him a prophet, not because he is a prophet like those in the Old Testament, but in an ironic sense. He is a prophet in the sense that he, being a polytheistic pagan, knows better than the monotheistic false teachers who claim to be Christians. He is a prophet in comparison to them because even he knows the importance of honesty and self-control.

[13]Argument: Because members from every tribe will be part of the redeemed humanity in heaven, those tribes which no longer exist must have had a way to be saved apart from the gospel. Response: “Every tribe” does not need to mean every possible classification of people throughout world history, only every ethnicity or people group in the world. But even if it does, this would be fulfilled through the salvation of dying infants.

Refuting Arguments for Hyper-Preterism

Matthew 10:23: When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.[1]

Matthew 16:28: Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.[2]

Matthew 24:33-34: So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.[3]

Revelation 3:11: I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.[4]

*Hyper-preterism is the belief that the second coming of Christ has already occurred and therefore there is no future coming of Christ, day of judgment, or resurrection of the dead. Christ returned in the form of the Roman army to destroy Jerusalem in 70 AD which is what the book of Revelation is about. Every verse in the Bible about the second coming and final judgment was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. A form of this heresy existed in the early church which had to be condemned by Paul on more than one occasion (2 Thess 2:1-2; 1 Tim 1:19-20; 2 Tim 2:17-18). In contrast to hyper-preterism, the Bible teaches that Christ will come again one day visibly and bodily just as he ascended into heaven (Matt 24:27; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thess 4:14-17). He will raise the dead, judge the world, and defeat all who are opposed to him. Hyper-preterism must allegorize all of the verses which teach on the second coming of Christ and reject the universal hope of the church that Christ will return one day for his people (Titus 2:13). See also 99. The Second Coming of Christ, 100. The Final Judgment, and 102. The New Heavens and New Earth.

[1]Argument: Because Jesus promised that his apostles would not finish going through all the towns of Israel before he came, he must have returned during their lifetime. Response: The point of this saying is that the apostles would never finish going through all the towns in Israel because of persecution. There are so many towns in Israel that they could not possibly make all of them their refuge and then have to flee them all. This saying combines an encouragement that the persecution of the apostles will be limited in duration with a warning of what it will cost to be an apostle of Christ. But the apostles never did finish going through all the towns of Israel. Jesus would only be wrong if the apostles had in fact fled to every town in Israel because of persecution. The idea of having to go through all the towns of Israel to avoid persecution is an exaggerated way of expressing how hated the apostles would become. Such persecution did take place, but the apostles were able to stay in Jerusalem for the most part (Acts 8:1). They never had to make every town in Israel their refuge before fleeing. A modern way of expressing this truth would be to say to a group of missionaries in Brazil, “You will not have gone through all the unreached villages in Brazil before the Son of Man comes.” The message that is being communicated is not that Christ will return before they die, but that such a task is impossible to complete because of our short time on earth.

[2]Argument: Jesus taught that some of his apostles would still be alive at the time of his second coming. Therefore, he had to of returned in the first century. Response: The seeing of “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” is what took place immediately after this in the transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-5. The appearance of Christ at his transfiguration is how he will appear at his second coming when he comes to judge the world. His radiance is a reflection of the glory of the Father with whom he is one in glory. The transfiguration was a foreshadowing of the second coming because the apostles saw a glimpse of Christ’s future glory when he returns.

[3]Argument: Because Jesus said that his coming would take place before the end of that generation, he came in the form of the Roman army to destroy Jerusalem and therefore there is no future coming of Christ. Response: “All these things” does not include the second coming, only those signs which must occur before it can take place. Robert L. Reymond rightly explains this verse: “The phrase ‘all these things,’ here and in the next verse, refers to the worldwide preaching of the gospel and the surrounding of Jerusalem by the Roman army. It would be an absurdity to understand Jesus as saying: ‘When you see the abomination that brings desolation, the worldwide tribulation, the sun darkened, the moon not giving light, the stars falling, the powers of heaven shaken, the Son of man coming in the clouds, all the tribes of the earth mourning, and finally, the ingathering of the elect, know that the kingdom is near,’ for his Second Coming will have already come and the kingdom of power will have already arrived” (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 1004-05). George C. Fuller in his article “The Olivet Discourse: An Apocalyptic Timetable” comes to the same conclusion: “The point of his lesson was this: when his disciples see ‘all these things’, they are to know that he (his parousia, his kingdom) is near, ‘even at the doors’. Now obviously ‘all these things’ cannot include his parousia, for they are signs of that event and precede it. The meaning of Jesus is that when his disciples see the destruction of Jerusalem (and the events related to it), they are to know that the next significant event will be his parousia and that he is about to come forth at any time. We find here the key to Matthew 24:34: ‘This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished’. What things? The most logical answer to that question is found in verse 33, the immediate context, where ‘all these things’ cannot include the parousia. ‘These things’ again refers to those events that surrounded the destruction of Jerusalem” (Westminster Theological Journal 28:2 [May 1966]: 162-63). The destruction of Jerusalem could not have been the fulfillment of the second coming of Christ because Jesus taught that he would return suddenly and take the world by surprise (Matt 24:43-44). The date of his coming cannot be calculated by man (24:36, 42). The final judgment will be universal in scope (24:38-39; 25:31-32). But the destruction of Jerusalem occurred over a long period time, the date of its destruction could have been predicted after 66 AD when the Jews rebelled against the Romans, and it was not universal in scope. Many Jewish unbelievers survived the occupation of the city.

[4]Argument: Because Christ said that he was coming soon, he had to of returned soon after Revelation was written. This coming was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. Response: The language of imminency is not meant to guarantee that Christ would return within the lifetime of those who originally read the book of Revelation, but to emphasize the certainty of it and to give us a further motivation to always look forward to the day of Christ’s return. When Christ does return, he will take the world by surprise (1 Thess 5:1-6). But that day will not surprise believers because they are always looking forward to it. It is Christ who is coming soon, not the Roman army. This argument is also invalidated if Revelation was written after the destruction of Jerusalem. The early church fathers taught that Revelation was written by John during the reign of Domitian between 95-96 AD (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.30.3; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.18).

Refuting Arguments for Hyper-Dispensationalism

Malachi 4:5: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.[1]

Matthew 10:5-6: These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”[2]

Matthew 15:24: He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”[3]

Matthew 25:40: And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”[4]

Acts 2:22: Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.[5]

Acts 3:26: God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.

Acts 9:15: But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”

Acts 13:46: And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.”[6]

1 Corinthians 1:17: For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.[7]

1 Corinthians 10:32: Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.[8]

1 Corinthians 12:13: For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.[9]

Ephesians 3:6: This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.[10]

Ephesians 3:9: And to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.

Ephesians 4:5: One Lord, one faith, one baptism.[11]

Ephesians 6:19: And also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.[12]

1 Thessalonians 5:9: For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.[13]

2 Timothy 2:15: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.[14]

Revelation 3:10: Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.[15]

*Hyper-dispensationalism is the application of the dispensational hermeneutic concerning the Old Testament to the teachings of Jesus and much of the book of Acts. Unless a command in the Gospels or the first half of Acts is repeated in the letters of the New Testament, it is not binding on Christians today because Jesus’ teachings were specifically for the Jews and not the church. The message of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is not directly relevant for Christians today, only for Israel and those living in the millennium. Some hyper-dispensationalists even argue that baptism is not for the church today because it is rooted in Jewish customs and not part of the church age. Other beliefs associated with hyper-dispensationalism include the teaching that repentance is not necessary for salvation, Sandemanianism, antinomianism, the belief that Israelites before Christ were saved by works, and neglecting to teach on God’s holiness, justice, and wrath. Hyper-dispensationalism is essentially a return to Marcionism without the polytheistic dualism. The heretic Marcion rejected the Old Testament and the Gospels as canonical and only considered the writings of Paul and an edited version of Luke to be authoritative. In contrast to hyper-dispensationalism, the Bible teaches that all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). See also 56. The Law of God, 79. Sanctification, and 84. The Church and Israel.

[1]Argument: The prophecy of Malachi 4:5 has not been fulfilled yet because John the Baptist was not literally Elijah. Malachi 4:5 will be fulfilled in the tribulation according to Revelation 11:3 when Enoch and Elijah return. Response: Jesus explicitly says that John is the fulfillment of this prophecy in Matthew 11:13-14: “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” He affirmed the same truth later in Matthew 17:12-13: “‘But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” To say that Malachi 4:5 has not been fulfilled yet goes against the very words of Jesus. The two witnesses in Revelation 11 are symbolic of the church since they are called “the two lampstands” in verse four. Lampstands in Revelation symbolize the church (Rev 1:20). The twoness of the lampstands alludes back to Zechariah 4:11-14 in reference to Joshua and Zerubbabel. God took Enoch and Elijah so that they would not see death (Heb 11:5), not so that they would die later on. Glorified saints in heaven cannot die. See 82. Glorification.

[2]Argument: Because Jesus’ ministry was only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, his teachings are only for Jews living under the law. Response: It is true that the primary mission of Jesus during his life was directed toward Israel, but it does not follow that his teachings are not binding on Gentile Christians. If the teachings of Jesus are not for the church, then why does Paul apply the words of Jesus to the church in his letters? (1 Cor 7:10; 1 Tim 5:18). Why does Acts 20:35 quote from Jesus? Why does the rest of the New Testament constantly refer back to Jesus as the foundation for all we believe? Why would Jesus command the apostles to teach those they disciple to obey all that he had commanded them if his commands were only for Jews? (Matt 28:19-20).

[3]Jesus is adopting the attitude of the unbelieving Jews around him to test the faith of this woman. That he did heal her shows that his ministry was not just for Israel, but for the whole world. This is a common theme in the Gospel of John.

[4]Argument: “My brothers” in this passage are not Christians, but Jewish people who are the literal brothers of Jesus. The salvation of those living in the tribulation is dependent on how one treats Jewish people who are being persecuted by the antichrist. The church age has ceased so salvation is now based on law instead of grace like it was before the coming of Christ. That is why Jesus says they are saved based on what they have done in contrast to those in the church age who are saved by faith alone. Response: “My brothers” are not those who are genetically related to Jesus, but those who do the will of God: “But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’ For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:48-50). Jesus mentions their good works, not because they are saved by them, but as evidence that God’s verdict to save them is just. They are descriptions of those who are saved, not prescriptions for how one becomes saved. See 100. The Final Judgment.

[5]Argument: Because Peter’s sermon was addressed specifically to Israel, the church did not yet exist since the church by definition includes Gentiles. Therefore, the church could not have existed yet. Response: The assumption that the church is Gentile by nature is the heart of hyper-dispensationalism. But what is the church? The English word “church” is a transliteration of the Scottish word kirk which traces its way back to the Greek word kuriakos for “that which belongs to the Lord.” But the Greek word that is translated as “church” is not kuriakos, but ekklēsia which means “assembly.” The church is the assembly of God’s people, those who believe in the Messiah. The church exists wherever believers exist, regardless of ethnicity. Christianity is true Messianic Judaism. See 83. The Nature of the Church.

[6]Argument: Since this was when Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles began, this is when the church began. Response: The church is not Gentile by nature. It exists wherever the community of those who are regenerate gather together, regardless if they are Jews or Gentiles.

[7]Argument: Because Paul was sent to preach the gospel, not to baptize, baptism is not for today. It is for Israel only, not the church. Response: If baptism is not for the church today, then why did Paul baptize the Gentile Philippian jailer and his family in Acts 16:33? Why did Paul baptize Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas in Corinth? Why is the book of Acts filled with references to baptism? Why does Paul assume that all of those he is writing to have been baptized? (Rom 6:3-5; Gal 3:27). Why did Jesus command the apostles to baptize disciples in Matthew 28:19-20? Is the Great Commission not for today either? When Paul says he was not sent to baptize, the point he is making is that the proclamation of the gospel is more important than the act of baptizing. We are saved through the proclamation of the gospel, not through the action of immersion in water. See 94. Baptism.

[8]Argument: Paul distinguishes the church of God from Jews which means Jews are not part of the church. Response: In that case, Greeks are not part of the church either since Paul lists them after Jews.

[9]Argument: Because the church has been baptized in the Spirit, water baptism is not necessary. Response: See the note on 1 Corinthians 1:17.

[10]Argument: Because the church is called a “mystery,” the church was unknown in the Old Testament. The church was not God’s original plan but only came about because Israel rejected the millennial kingdom. Response: The Old Testament is filled with prophecies concerning the salvation of the Gentiles through the Messiah (Isa 9:1-2; 11:10; 19:18-25; 42:6; 49:6, 22; 51:4-5; 52:10, 15; 55:5; 56:6-7; 60:3-10; 62:2; Zech 2:11; 8:22-23; Mal 1:11). The New Testament church which is composed of both Jews and Gentiles is called a mystery, not because it was unknown, but because it was not fully understood until it took place. The cross was always God’s plan, not a backup (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; Eph 3:10-11). Jesus never offered Israel a millennial kingdom and avoided every attempt to be made king by them (John 6:15).

[11]Argument: Because there is only “one baptism,” water baptism cannot be for today or else there would be two baptisms: one in water and one in Spirit (1 Cor 12:13). Response: There is only “one baptism” because Paul assumes that all Christians have been baptized. Water baptism unites all Christians together because it is an event which every Christian would have participated in as part of their conversion process into the Christian faith. Paul’s point is that there is only one water baptism into which we are baptized. There are no additional baptisms after that which distinguish some Christians from others. See the note on 1 Corinthians 1:17.

[12]Argument: Because the gospel is called a “mystery,” the gospel was unknown in the Old Testament. This means that those who lived before Christ were not saved by the gospel, but by keeping the law. Response: If Old Testament saints were saved by the law, then why does Paul use Abraham as the example for how we are justified by faith in Romans 4? Why does the author of Hebrews refer over and over again to the faith of Old Testament saints? (Heb 11:7). If salvation at any point was by keeping the law, then it would overthrow salvation by grace and give people a ground for boasting before God (Rom 4:1-2; 11:6). The law can only reveal our sins to us and never save us because we are by nature depraved and sinful apart from the regenerating power of God (Rom 3:19-20). See 69. Salvation by Grace Alone, 74. Faith in Christ, and 76. Justification.

[13]Argument: The church is not destined for wrath which means that we will not experience the seven-year tribulation but be taken out of the world before then. Response: The “wrath” of this verse is not a period of tribulation on earth, but the wrath of God in hell. The parallel text in 1:10 helps us understand this verse: “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” This wrath is the opposite of “salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This means that all of those who are not saved will experience this wrath, not just a group of lost people in the future. The basis for deliverance from it is that believers are saved because Christ has died for them (5:10). This wrath comes when Christ returns and no one who is lost will escape it: “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (5:3). But this theory teaches that many unbelievers will escape it and become saved after Christ returns. The entire concept of a seven-year tribulation is based on a misunderstanding of Daniel 9:24-27. See the note on Daniel 9:27 in 65. The Covenant of Grace.

[14]Argument: “Rightly handling” literally means “rightly dividing” in Greek. This means that we are called to rightly divide the Bible up into different dispensations in order to interpret it correctly. Response: “Rightly handling” is a perfectly fine way of translating this figure of speech. Guiding along a straight path is a more literalistic translation of this word than dividing. The meaning of the verse is that we are called to accurately handle God’s Word. But there is nothing in this metaphor which tells us exactly how we are to rightly interpret it. Rather than rightly handling God’s Word, this hermeneutic atomizes and breaks apart the Bible to fit every verse into a pre-existing grid.

[15]Argument: The church will escape the tribulation period and be taken out of the world before then. Suffering is not the calling of the church today. Response: Who is Jesus talking to in these verses? Is he talking to the church which exists at the time of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 or the one that existed in the first century in the city of Philadelphia? The closest parallel to this verse in the Bible is John 17:15 when Jesus prays, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” This is a promise for protection in the midst of suffering, not a promise that they would be spared suffering. Jesus protected them from that hour in the same way he protects us from the evil one. I have written more on this verse in my article “Is Revelation 3:10 a Reference to the Rapture of the Church?” at

Refuting Arguments for The Pre-existence of the Soul and Reincarnation

Job 1:20-21: Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”[1]

Jeremiah 1:5: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.[2]

Matthew 11:14: And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.[3]

John 3:3: Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”[4]

John 9:1-2: As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”[5]

Galatians 1:15-16: But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone.[6]

Ephesians 1:4: Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.[7]

James 3:6: And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.[8]

*The pre-existence of the soul is the belief that we existed as a soul before our life on earth. When our body was conceived, we left God’s presence to enter into it. The most well known group which believes in the pre-existence of the soul is Mormonism. It was also the belief of the church father Origen who taught that we eternally existed with God before the creation of the world. Reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul is the belief that we are born into the world many times in different bodies after death. Hinduism is the best known religion which teaches this. The belief in karma or the position into which we are born based on the actions of our previous life is essential to the Hindu understanding of life, death, and rebirth. In contrast to reincarnation, the Bible teaches that we will be raised bodily from the dead never to die again. See also 67. The Necessity of the Gospel, 97. The Intermediate State, and 100. The Final Judgment.

[1]Argument: Job believed that he would return to the womb after his death demonstrating his belief in reincarnation. Response: “Naked shall I return” is not a reference to returning to the womb, but being buried in the earth. As he came into the world with nothing, he shall leave the world with nothing. Job believed that he would be bodily resurrected from the dead which is contrary to reincarnation (Job 19:26-27).

[2]Argument: How could God know Jeremiah before he was in the womb if he did not pre-exist before then? Response: The verb “know” carries with it the sense of “choose” and does not demand that Jeremiah existed before he was in the womb. That is why the verb is parallel to “consecrated” and “appointed.” God chose Jeremiah to be a prophet before he was born because Jeremiah’s life was foreordained by God. A similar use of “know” is in Amos 3:2 in reference to God choosing Israel: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”

[3]Argument: Jesus is teaching that John the Baptist is the reincarnation of Elijah the prophet. Response: John is the Elijah who is to come in the sense that he is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachi 4:5. He comes in the spirit and power of Elijah as Luke 1:17 says: “And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” He is not Elijah, but the antitype to whom Elijah pointed.

[4]Argument: Being born again is reincarnation. We must be born again multiple times to finally reach the kingdom of God. Response: To be born again is not reincarnation, but a metaphor to picture the new birth of regeneration. It was Nicodemus who incorrectly believed that Jesus was speaking of literal birth in the next verse: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” It is being born of the Spirit instead of by man as Jesus corrects Nicodemus’ misunderstanding in the rest of the passage.

[5]Argument: The idea that the man could have sinned which resulted in the condition he is in now demonstrates that the concepts of karma and reincarnation were present in Jewish belief. Why else would they ask this question? Response: Even if the concept of karma is behind this question, Jesus does not believe in it. He corrects their misunderstanding by saying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” If Jesus had believed in karma and that this man was suffering because of his actions in a previous life, he could not have said this. Rather than proving a concept of karma, Jesus’ reply is not consistent with the Hindu worldview. The wrong suggestion by the disciples that he might have sinned is with regard to his existence in the womb, not a time before the womb. The possibility that he might have sinned in the womb shows how ridiculous their suggestion was.

[6]See the note on Jeremiah 1:5.

[7]Argument: How could God choose us before the foundation of the world if we did not exist before the foundation of the world? Response: God can do this because he is eternal, has exhaustive knowledge of the future, and is sovereign over history. Even though we did not exist then, we existed from God’s eternal perspective who foreordained our salvation. See 13. The Omniscience of God and 70. Election.

[8]Argument: “The entire course of life” in Greek literally means “the wheel of life.” This shows that James believed in the karmic wheel of life and reincarnation. Response: The “wheel of life” is a metaphor for the entirety of one’s existence. The point is that our words have consequences which can affect us for the rest of our life.

Refuting Arguments for Baptism for the Dead

Malachi 4:5-6: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.[1]

1 Corinthians 15:29: Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?[2]

*Baptism for the dead is the Mormon practice of being baptized on behalf of those who have died. In order to enter the celestial kingdom, a person must be baptized or someone else must be baptized on his behalf. This practice of baptism for the dead is rooted in the concept of postmortem evangelism which teaches that there is a second chance for salvation after death. Since the entire concept of baptism for the dead in Mormonism is driven by the polytheistic belief in the law of eternal progression, every verse in Scripture which refutes polytheism disproves this concept of baptism for the dead. See also 1. Monotheism and the Incomparability of God, 67. The Necessity of the Gospel, 94. Baptism, and 97. The Intermediate State.

[1]Argument: The fathers of this passage are those who have died and the turning of the hearts of their children toward them takes place when they are baptized on their behalf so that they might enter the kingdom of God. Response: The turning of hearts in this passage is a description of the reconciliation that takes place in families because of the transforming power of the gospel. The gospel unites families together since now they are not only related to one another through physical birth, but spiritual birth. They are brothers in Christ now, not just fathers and sons.

[2]Argument: Because Paul refers to baptism for the dead, we should be baptized on behalf of those who have died. Response: In order to properly interpret this verse, we need to answer several questions: 1. Who is being baptized? 2. Who are the dead? 3. What baptism is this? 4. How do the dead benefit from this baptism? and 5. Does Paul approve of this practice? I believe the baptism of this verse is Christian baptism for several reasons: there is no archaeological or literary evidence in favor of a pagan practice for being baptized on behalf of the dead, the practice of baptism is Jewish in origin, baptizō in Paul’s writings always refers to Christian baptism or baptism in the Holy Spirit, those who were baptized for the dead were professing Christians since Paul is using this baptism against their doubts that the dead will be raised while claiming to believe in the resurrection of Christ, and he does not rebuke them for this practice anywhere in his letters. If this was a practice Paul did not approve of, then it is unbelievable that he would never say anything against it. This means that those who are baptized are professing Christians, those they are baptized for are Christians who have died, the baptism of this verse is Christian baptism, and Paul does approve of this practice. But how is Christian baptism a baptism for the dead? It is for them in the sense that new Christians join the visible church through baptism taking the place of those who have died. The preposition “for” should then be understood as “in the place of” rather than “for the benefit of.” Paul’s argument would then be, “Why were you baptized into the church to take the place of those who have died if you do not believe those who have died are going to be raised from the dead? If they are not going to be raised, then you will not be raised either. Baptism is a picture of resurrection from the dead. Why would you participate in this act symbolizing resurrection if you do not believe in a future day of resurrection?”

Refuting Arguments for Baptism as Sprinkling or Pouring

Isaiah 52:15: So shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.[1]

Ezekiel 36:25: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.[2]

Daniel 5:21: He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.[3]

Mark 7:4: And when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.[4]

Luke 11:38: The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.[5]

Acts 2:17: And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.[6]

Acts 2:41: So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.[7]

Acts 16:33: And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.[8]

1 Corinthians 10:1-2: I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.[9]

Hebrews 9:10: But deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.[10]

1 Peter 3:20-21: Because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.[11]

Judith 12:7: So Holofernes commanded his guards not to hinder her. And she remained in the camp for three days, and went out each night to the valley of Bethulia, and bathed at the spring in the camp.[12]

Sirach 34:25: If a man washes after touching a dead body, and touches it again, what has he gained by his washing?[13]

Didache 7:1-3: And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.[14]

*Baptism is a meaningless word in English. It is a transliteration of the Greek word baptisma rather than an actual translation. Instead of translating it as immersion, English Bible translators leave the word untranslated so that people can read into it whatever meaning they want. Because pouring water was the established custom of the church at the time of the King James Bible, those in charge of translating it did not want to cause controversy so they left the word untranslated. But even if we have no idea what the verb baptizō means, pouring or sprinkling are impossible translations because it is not the water that is baptized, but the person who is baptized. A person cannot be divided into parts or poured out like water can. Only a liquid can be sprinkled or poured, but a person can be immersed in water. Immersion alone captures the picture of burial and resurrection with Christ and therefore baptism is reserved for only those who have died and been raised with Christ (Rom 6:3-5). This is why immersion was the way Christian initiation was practiced in the first century (Acts 8:36-39). The practice of Christian baptism is rooted in the Hebrew concept of mikveh which is a Jewish bath used for immersion. The verb baptizō was always translated as to dip or to immerse in the early translations of the Greek New Testament into other languages. All reputable Greek scholars agree that baptizō means to immerse when used literally. That is why the Greek Orthodox Church continues to practice baptism by immersion because they know Greek while the Latin Church which did not know Greek switched to pouring for pragmatic reasons. See The Meaning and Use of Baptizein by T. J. Conant, Baptism in Its Mode and Subjects by Alexander Carson, A Manual of Baptism by G. S. Bailey, and A Handbook on Christian Baptism by Richard Ingham. See also 94. Baptism.

[1]Argument: Because the Messiah will sprinkle many nations, baptism is by sprinkling water. Response: The sprinkling of this verse is not baptism or the sprinkling of water, but the sprinkling of blood (Exod 29:21; Heb 12:24; 1 Pet 1:2). It is Christ who does this as the high priest of the new covenant. But when we are baptized, it is not literally done by Christ.

[2]Argument: Those in the new covenant have had water sprinkled on them. Therefore, baptism is by sprinkling water. Response: Ezekiel 36:25 is not a description of baptism, but of regeneration. This argument can only be used by those who believe baptism causes regeneration. The sprinkling of water is a metaphor for regeneration which alludes back to the sprinkling ceremonies of the Old Testament. Since this sprinkling is done by God and not man, it cannot be literal baptism. Another reason for understanding this sprinkling as symbolic of regeneration is that the next verse defines this sprinkling as being given a new heart. The regenerating and indwelling power of the Holy Spirit cleanses us and makes us holy in God’s sight.

[3]Argument: The Greek translation of Daniel 5:21 uses the verb baptō to describe Nebuchadnezzar’s being wet from the dew of heaven. Therefore, baptō does not need to be literal immersion. Response: The Greek translation of Daniel 5:21 is using baptō metaphorically, not literally. But the literal significance of baptism is contained within the metaphorical usage of it. Nebuchadnezzar was so wet that it was the same as if he had been immersed in water. “If a body had been baptized or immersed, it could not have been more wet than Nebuchadnezzar’s” (George Gibbs, A Defence of the Baptists, 67). The focus is on the effect of the condensation (becoming drenched), not how he got wet. Pouring or sprinkling do not result in one’s entire body becoming wet.

[4]Argument: If baptism is always by immersion, how could dining couches be immersed in water? Response: This is an anachronistic argument because it reads into the word “couch” the modern definition of a couch as a chair one sits on to eat at a table. Rather, this couch or bed was more like a rug or pallet. The same word is used to describe the bed which the paralytic laid on before he was healed and then picked up and walked home with (Matt 9:6). It was something light enough to be picked up and carried. Since the Jews were already accustomed to ritually immerse their belongings in their mikvehs, it should not surprise us that they included these as well. The background of this tradition appears to be Leviticus 11:32: “And anything on which any of them falls when they are dead shall be unclean, whether it is an article of wood or a garment or a skin or a sack, any article that is used for any purpose. It must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the evening; then it shall be clean.” It is interesting the several Greek manuscripts omit the word “couches” in their text of Mark. But if these Greek scribes had believed that baptismos can mean a sprinkling or pouring of water, then there would have been no incentive for them to remove this word from the text. Because it is difficult to immerse a dining couch, some scribes were tempted to remove it.

[5]Argument: Washing here cannot mean immersion because it would have been ridiculous for a person to immerse his entire body in water before every meal. Response: It is ridiculous and that is exactly the point. Jesus refused to follow their man-made traditions which applied the ritual immersions of the Old Testament to every situation in life. The background of this tradition appears to be an evolution of Leviticus 15:11: “Anyone whom the one with the discharge touches without having rinsed his hands in water shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.” Rabbi Maimonides in Hilchoth Mikvah 1.2 expresses the same truth about Jewish washings: “Wherever washing of the flesh, and washing of clothes, are mentioned in the law, nothing else is meant but the dipping of the whole body in a confluence of water” (Bailey, A Manual of Baptism, 93).

[6]Argument: Because the Spirit is poured out on the day of Pentecost and Jesus said earlier in Acts 1:5 that they would be baptized into the Spirit, that means baptism is by pouring. Response: G. S. Bailey responds to the paedobaptist use of this language: “The Spirit is not literally poured out, only figuratively. He is not a liquid that can be literally poured. If the pouring were the baptism, the Spirit himself would be the one baptized, because the Spirit is poured out, not the candidates. If pouring is baptism, then the water is baptized, and not the candidates, for the former is poured, but the latter is not” (225). Both pouring and immersion are figurative expressions to symbolize the work of the Holy Spirit in filling and empowering the disciples. But these are two different metaphors which use different verbs and have different objects. When the Spirit is poured out, the Spirit is the object of the verb “to pour,” not the disciples. But when the disciples are baptized, they are the objects of the verb “to baptize,” not the Spirit. Pouring does not mean baptizing because a person cannot be poured. To be baptized in the Spirit is a metaphor which means to be overwhelmed by the Spirit. The pouring out of the Spirit is a metaphor which means that the Spirit’s power and gifts were given to the disciples. The Holy Spirit is omnipresent, not a substance that can be poured or a body of water that a person can be immersed in. The church father Cyril of Jerusalem expresses the relationship between water baptism and baptism in the Spirit this way: “As he who is plunged in the water and baptized is encompassed by the water on every side, so they that are baptized by the Holy Spirit are also wholly covered over” (Bailey, A Manual of Baptism, 222). The paedobaptist argument is the result of conflating the two metaphors together instead of keeping them distinct.

[7]Argument: Three thousand people could not possibly have been immersed that day. There was not enough water in Jerusalem to fit them all or enough time in the day. Response: There were multiple pools in Jerusalem including the pool of Bethesda, the pool of Solomon, and the pool of Siloam which each had more than enough water to immerse these people. Herod had constructed a system of aqueducts to supply Jerusalem with enough water to fill these pools and the Jewish mikvehs. There were 120 believers on the day of Pentecost before Peter’s sermon who also could have been involved in the baptizing, not just the twelve apostles.

[8]Argument: It is unlikely that the Jailer and his family were immersed because the water at night would have been cold. Response: If it has already been established that baptizō means to dip or immerse when used literally, then arguments based on probability are not persuasive. The water used to baptize the Jailer and his family might have been cold, but disobedience to God’s Word is worse than cold water.

[9]Argument: Because the Israelites were not literally immersed in water, baptizō does not need to be immersion. Response: This is a metaphorical use of baptism, not a literal one. The Israelites were metaphorically baptized in the sense that they were completely surrounded by water on every side. Water was on either side of them as the sea was parted and water was above them in the form of a cloud. In this figurative sense, they were baptized.

[10]Argument: The word translated as “washings” is baptismos. Since verse 13 mentions sprinkling, that means baptismos includes sprinkling. Response: The washings of Hebrews 9:10 are not acts of sprinkling, but the ritual immersions of the Old Testament (Lev 11:32; 14:8-9; 15:5-13, 21, 27; 17:15-16; Num 19:7-8, 19). These are distinct from the sprinkling of verse 13 which was done with blood, not water.

[11]Argument: Because the waters of the flood poured down from heaven, baptism means pouring. Response: Noah’s flood is called a baptism because it immersed the whole earth in water. The entire world was covered over with water which is why it is a type of baptism or immersion.

[12]Argument: This bathing could not have been immersion because it would have been inappropriate for her to undress in front of the entire army. Response: That is why the text explicitly says that she bathed herself in the spring at night so that no one would see her because they would have been asleep. If this bathing only involved pouring water on herself, why was it necessary that she go down into the valley at night to do this when she could have done it at her tent?

[13]Argument: Sirach uses baptizō to refer to the ritual sprinkling of Numbers 19:19. Therefore, baptizō can mean “to sprinkle.” Response: Sirach 34:25 is describing the ritual immersion of Numbers 19:19, not the first part of the ritual involving sprinkling. The person must “bathe himself in water” and this was done by immersion. The proof that Sirach only has in mind the second half of the ritual involving immersion is that the author uses the noun loutron to describe the ritual which corresponds to the verb louō in the Greek translation of Numbers 19:19 in reference to the bathing in water.

[14]Argument: Since the Didache, a second century Christian document, allows for baptism by pouring water, other modes of baptism are approved by the Christian church. Response: Rather than being an argument for the validity of baptism by pouring, the Didache proves that the Christians who wrote this document did not believe that baptizō could mean “to pour.” The word translated as “baptize” is baptizō while “pour” is ekcheō. If one of the meanings of baptizō is “to pour,” then there would have been no need to talk about pouring later on. The fact that the two actions are distinguished by different verbs shows that their meanings do not overlap. This passage is an example of how many of the early Christians went beyond Scripture by adding extra-biblical traditions to it. Another example of this is Didache 11:7: “Do not test or evaluate any prophet who speaks in the spirit, for every sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven.” But Paul taught that we should evaluate claims to prophecy (1 Cor 14:29; 1 Thess 5:20-21). Jesus said that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only sin which cannot be forgiven (Matt 12:31-32).

Refuting Arguments for Infant Baptism

Genesis 17:10-14: This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.[1]

Matthew 19:14: But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”[2]

Acts 2:39: For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.[3]

Acts 16:15: And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.[4]

Romans 4:11: He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well.[5]

1 Corinthians 7:14: For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.[6]

Ephesians 6:1: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.[7]

Colossians 2:11-12: In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.[8]

*Infant baptism is the belief that the infant children of believers should be baptized. But paedobaptists differ as to the reason why they should be baptized. Some argue that it is because baptism brings about regeneration and therefore to deprive infants of baptism would be to deprive them of the Holy Spirit. Others argue that the children of believers are members of the church and therefore must receive baptism which is the sign of the new covenant. One’s view of infant baptism flows from one’s understanding of the nature of the church and the nature of baptism. If baptism regenerates ex opere operato, then baptism should be given to as many people as possible. If the infant children of believers are Christians and members of the new covenant, then an argument can be made in favor of baptizing them. Paedocommunion takes this argument a step further by insisting that since the children of believers are members of the new covenant, they must receive the Lord’s supper since it too is a sign of the new covenant. But if the church is a regenerate community, the bride for whom Christ died, the community of those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and baptism is an act of faith and repentance, then none but Christians who are able to repent and believe the gospel may be baptized. If the new covenant community is composed of only those who have been forgiven of their sins, then only those who have been saved are allowed to be baptized. To give membership in the church to those we know are not born again would be to deny the regenerate nature of the new covenant. In the case of infant baptism, baptism ceases to be an act of repentance and profession of faith since an infant cannot do these things. The one being baptized then becomes a passive agent instead of an active participant in proclaiming his faith in Christ. See A Biblical Critique of Infant Baptism by Matt Waymeyer and From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism by W. Gary Crampton. See also 83. The Nature of the Church and 94. Baptism.

[1]Argument: Because God has given the covenant of circumcision to Abraham and we are the children of Abraham, the command to circumcise our children applies to us as well. But since circumcision has been abolished, we must baptize them instead because baptism is the replacement for circumcision. Response: The covenant of circumcision was only given to Abraham and his physical descendants, not the church. It is only those who believe who are the spiritual descendants of Abraham (Rom 4:11, 16; 9:6-7; Gal 3:29). The infant children of believers are therefore not the spiritual descendants of Abraham because they do not yet have faith or belong to Christ. Many of them will never become Abraham’s spiritual descendants. Even if baptism is the replacement for circumcision, it should only be given to those who are of Abraham’s spiritual seed. But if baptism is the replacement for circumcision, then why didn’t Paul in Galatians or anyone in Acts 15 ever make that point? It would have been a great argument against the Judaizers: “How can you say that Gentiles must become circumcised to be saved, don’t you know that circumcision has been replaced by baptism?” Circumcision and baptism both signify different things. Circumcision is a sign that one is a member of the household of Israel and a physical descendant of Abraham. On the other hand, baptism is a sign that one is a member of the new covenant. Membership in the new covenant is not determined by physical birth, but spiritual birth.

[2]Argument: Because Jesus says that these little children are members of the kingdom of heaven, they should be given baptism which is the sign of membership in the church, the kingdom of heaven on earth. Response: When Jesus says, “To such belongs the kingdom of heaven,” he does not mean that little children are one category of people who belong to the kingdom of heaven, but that it is only those who are little children who belong to the kingdom of heaven. That is why Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3). Mark and Luke make this more explicit by connecting the request to have the little children come to him directly with the statement that the kingdom of heaven is only made of those who are like children (Mark 10:14-15; Luke 18:16-17). A similar statement is found in Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It is only those who are poor in spirit who are members of the kingdom of heaven. Likewise, it is only believers who are like children in their trust of God. Jesus is using the children he is blessing as an object lesson for his disciples to show them what true faith looks like. If this passage is proof for infant baptism, then that means we should baptize all young children, not just those whose parents are believers since all of them are a picture of what true faith in God looks like.

[3]Argument: Because the promise is for you are your children, the children of believers share in the promise of the new covenant and membership in it. Peter is teaching that the promise of the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 17:7-8 now applies to the church. Response: The promise of Acts 2:39 is not membership in the Abrahamic covenant, but the promise of salvation and the indwelling Holy Spirit. The third group of people (all who are far off) are normally overlooked in the paedobaptist use of this verse. These are the Gentiles who would be brought to faith in Christ (Eph 2:13). If Peter is teaching that all children of believers should be baptized, then all Gentiles should be baptized as well since they are included in the same promise. The promise of the Holy Spirit is limited to those whom God effectually calls: “As many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” Not all children of believers receive this call just as not all Gentiles receive it. Peter is teaching that the promise of the Holy Spirit and salvation is for all whom God effectually calls: for you who are listening, for your children regardless of what age they are, and for the Gentiles. The passage teaches that baptism is an act of repentance and that only those who believed the gospel were baptized and added to the membership of the church.

[4]Argument: Because whole households were baptized and infants are members of households, infants should be baptized. Response: The texts which speak of household baptism also say that the household believed. If the whole household believed, then did the infants in the household believe the gospel as well? An infant cannot believe the gospel because faith comes through hearing the message about Christ (Rom 10:17). An infant does not understand human language. Faith must have an object and infants have no knowledge of Christ. If households can be said to have believed the gospel while their infant children did not, is it not also possible for households to have been baptized without their infant children being baptized? The nature of baptism and faith preclude infants from them.

[5]Argument: Abraham’s circumcision was a sign of his righteousness by faith. Since circumcision was given to infants even though they did not have faith, baptism can be given to infants as well even though they do not have faith. Response: Abraham’s circumcision functioned as a sign which pointed to his righteousness before God. But this was only true for Abraham who was actually righteous before God by faith. Circumcision did not function as a sign of righteousness before God for the infants who received it because they were not righteous before God by faith. Circumcision in the case of every person who received it signified membership in Israel and secondarily for Abraham it signified his righteous status before God. In contrast, baptism in the case of every true believer signifies his faith in what Christ has done for him in his death and resurrection. Whereas a person can be passive in the act of circumcision, baptism by nature is an active expression of faith in Christ.

[6]Argument: The children of believers are holy which entitles them to membership in the church. Since they are holy members of the covenant community, they should receive baptism in contrast to the children of unbelievers who are not holy. Response: Paul is addressing the question of whether or not a Christian should leave his or her unbelieving spouse and children, not whether children should be baptized. The point that Paul is making is simply this: unlike in Ezra 10 and Nehemiah 13 when the Israelites had to forsake their pagan wives and children, a Christian should not leave his unbelieving wife and children because the marriage is truly valid in God’s sight and therefore your children are legitimately yours and not illegitimate offspring. A similar use of “holy” is found in 1 Timothy 4:5 in reference to food that would of been unclean prior to the coming of Christ: “For it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” God’s Word now declares that all food is clean (Mark 7:19). There are no more food laws binding on New Testament Christians and the Old Testament laws concerning the invalidity of mixed marriages are not binding on Christians today though Christians are instructed to only marry in the Lord (1 Cor 7:39). This means that these children are legally the children of the believing spouse and are not illegitimate. This use of “holy” is equivalent to the Hebrew term kosher describing that which is acceptable or allowed. If the marriage was not valid (like the mixed marriages of Ezra and Nehemiah), then the children born would be illegitimate and have to be sent away. But since you would not send your children away, you should not divorce your unbelieving spouse either. Christians are not Old Testament Jews living in a theocracy, but individuals called to dwell in the midst of an unbelieving world. For a Christian to forsake his children would bring reproach upon the gospel. The paedobaptist argument based on this verse is invalid, not only because it removes the verse from its context, but because the unbelieving spouse is likewise called holy since Paul uses the verbal form of the same word that is used to describe the children. If the children are to be baptized because they are holy, then the unbelieving spouse should also be baptized because he or she is holy as well.

[7]Argument: Since Paul addresses the children of believers, the children of believers are members of the church. Response: These children are not infants because they are old enough to understand the words that are being read to them. If a child is old enough to understand the gospel, then that child is old enough to be saved and publicly confess Christ as Lord afterwards in baptism. The command to honor father and mother is binding on all men, not just believing children.

[8]Argument: Paul teaches that baptism is the replacement for circumcision. Therefore, since circumcision was given to infants, baptism should be given to them as well. Response: The circumcision of Colossians 2:11-12 is not physical circumcision, but the spiritual circumcision of the heart in regeneration. That is why it is “made without hands.” But both physical circumcision and baptism are made with hands. It is true that circumcision and baptism can be used metaphorically to picture regeneration, but it does not follow that both circumcision and baptism signify the same thing when spoken of literally. Literal circumcision signifies membership in the nation of Israel which comes through physical birth while baptism signifies membership in the new covenant which comes through the new birth. The one who is baptized professes to have what circumcision pointed to. Circumcision pointed to regeneration whereas the one who is baptized is claiming to be regenerate and among those who have the circumcision of the heart. Since they already have the circumcision of the heart, they do not need physical circumcision. It is not that baptism replaces circumcision, but that circumcision finds its fulfillment in regeneration. All of Israel had the circumcision of the flesh while all of those in the new covenant have the circumcision of the heart.

Refuting Arguments for Baptismal Regeneration

Mark 1:4: John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.[1]

Mark 16:16: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.[2]

John 3:5: Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”[3]

Acts 2:38: And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”[4]

Acts 22:16: And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.[5]

Romans 6:3-5: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.[6]

1 Corinthians 6:11: And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.[7]

1 Corinthians 12:13: For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.[8]

Galatians 3:27: For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.[9]

Ephesians 5:26: That he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.[10]

Colossians 2:11-13: In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.[11]

Titus 3:5: He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.[12]

Hebrews 7:12: For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.[13]

1 Peter 3:21: Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.[14]

*Baptismal regeneration is the belief that baptism is the instrument of regeneration and is therefore necessary for salvation. There are two different kinds of baptismal regeneration: paedobaptistic baptismal regeneration and credobaptistic baptismal regeneration. But because those who hold to baptismal regeneration cannot consistently believe that baptism is necessary for salvation, the church invented baptism of desire (a desire to be baptized) and baptism of blood (martyrdom) which are acceptable substitutes for baptism if a person dies before he can be baptized. The belief in baptismal regeneration results in dead formalism where people are deceived into thinking they are Christians because they got wet. The spiritual condition of Europe and New England in contrast to Evangelical Christianity in America and the Global South is proof of this. Whether a person believes regeneration comes through the gospel message or the act of baptism is the dividing line between true Christianity and dead orthodoxy. The belief in baptismal regeneration always goes together with a belief in conditional security because not everyone who is baptized endures to the end. Baptismal regeneration separates faith from regeneration because a person must have faith in Christ before he wants to be baptized. In baptismal regeneration, a person can believe the gospel message while remaining unregenerate until baptism. But faith is something that is pleasing to God which only those who are in the Spirit can exercise (Rom 8:8-9). This is why Alexander Campbell was forced to hold to a Sandemanian understanding of faith since a person can believe in facts about the gospel without being regenerated. In contrast to baptismal regeneration, the Bible teaches that the Word of God is the instrument of regeneration, not the water of baptism (Jas 1:18; 1 Pet 1:23-25). It is belief in the gospel that saves, not the act of being baptized. Paedobaptistic baptismal regeneration is refuted by the very same verses which are quoted to support baptismal regeneration because the majority of them connect baptism to repentance and an infant has no ability to repent or sins to repent of. On the other hand, if baptism by immersion as a professing believer is necessary for salvation, then every Christian who has ever died without baptism is in hell right now: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, Thomas Brooks, Thomas Watson, Jeremiah Burroughs, and the majority of the Puritans. Credobaptistic baptismal regeneration is ridiculous because it makes salvation dependent on the availability of enough water to immerse a person. Baptismal regeneration also contradicts the testimony of every Christian who has ever been saved. Listen to the testimony of Paul Washer in his sermon “A Liar and a Coward” at Watch the documentary The Cross: Jesus in China. Then ask yourself, “Would these people have gone to hell if they had died before they were baptized after placing their faith in Christ?” I have written on the anti-trinitarian beginnings of credobaptistic baptismal regeneration in my article “The Anti-Trinitarianism of the Stone-Campbell Movement” at See also 69. Salvation by Grace Alone, 73. Regeneration, 76. Justification, and 94. Baptism.

[1]Argument: Baptism results in the forgiveness of sins and therefore is necessary for salvation. Response: Mark 1:4 draws a connection between baptism and the forgiveness of sins because baptism itself is an act of repentance. It is repentance that results in the forgiveness of sins, not the act of immersion in water (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25). Baptism is an occasion for repentance which leads to forgiveness of sins. If a person refuses to be baptized in water, that demonstrates he is not truly repentant because baptism was costly in the first century. Only those who have been born again desire to do the will of God from the heart.

[2]Mark 16:16 is a textual variant not original to Mark. But even if it is original, its meaning would be the same as Acts 2:38 that baptism is an act of repentance. The meaning of the text would be that both faith and repentance are necessary for forgiveness of sins because saving faith is a repentant faith. True repentance is demonstrated by one’s actions.

[3]Argument: “Water” is baptism and therefore baptism is necessary to be born again. Response: See 72. Effectual Calling for the explanation of this verse. In addition, if water in John 3:5 is baptism, then the thief on the cross could not have been saved because he was never baptized. Jesus makes no exceptions in his statement that one must be born of water and Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. If the thief on the cross was saved without baptism because baptism was not necessary for salvation until after the resurrection of Christ, then how can Mark 1:4 and John 3:5 be used as evidence for baptismal regeneration when baptism was not yet a requirement for salvation? The background of this verse must therefore be Ezekiel 36:25-26 and Isaiah 44:3 rather than baptism.

[4]Argument: Because Peter tells the crowd to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, baptism is necessary for salvation. Response: Peter can say this because repentance and baptism are not two different requirements for salvation any more than repentance and turning are two different requirements for forgiveness in Acts 3:19. Just as repentance and turning are not two different things, repentance and baptism are not two different things. Baptism is the outward expression of repentance, not something separate from it. If those Peter was speaking to had refused to be baptized, it would have demonstrated that their repentance was not genuine. Baptism would have meant being kicked out of the synagogue (John 9:22). The costliness of baptism in the first century decreased the likelihood of false converts. Baptism was the first century equivalent of the altar call. There are no “secret agent” Christians because those whom God has made into new creations desire to follow Christ. The mistake this argument is making is separating repentance from baptism so that baptism becomes the act which results in regeneration. But we can do nothing that is pleasing to God, whether it be faith or baptism, until we have been regenerated through the gospel (Rom 8:7-9). Because the natural man hates God and refuses to submit to him as Lord, he must be made into a new creature in order to do so.

[5]Argument: Baptism washes away our sins. Why else would Ananias connect baptism with the washing away of sin in his message to Paul? Response: Paul was already a regenerate believer before he was baptized because the scales had already fallen from his eyes before he was baptized. If it is baptism that brings about regeneration, then the scales should have fallen off in the waters of baptism and not before. The scales symbolized the deceptive power of the devil over Paul which has now been broken. It is also a visual metaphor for Paul’s ability to now see clearly. How could Paul be freed from the blindness of his former way of life if he was not already regenerate? Ananias can connect baptism with forgiveness of sins because baptism is an act of repentance and it is repentance that results in forgiveness. Baptism is also a picture of the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit who purifies us from our sin. Baptism cannot be separated from calling on the name of the Lord since baptism was understood to be an act of faith (Rom 10:9). But a person does not have to be immersed in water to profess one’s faith in Christ. If a person has been saved, then he will desire to walk in obedience to Christ which includes baptism.

[6]Argument: Baptism results in “newness of life” and union with Christ. Response: Baptism was part of the overall conversion experience into the Christian faith and would normally take place on the same day that one believed the gospel message. In the instances of conversion in the book of Acts, baptism takes place right after a person places his faith in Christ. Paul is calling Christians to remember their baptism because it was then that they publicly professed faith in Christ. It is not the act of immersion in water which unites us to Christ, but God through the Holy Spirit who does so to which we respond in faith and repentance of which baptism is one expression of.

[7]Argument: “Washed” is a reference to baptism since the same term occurs in Acts 22:16 with regard to baptism. Response: Even if the washing of this verse is baptism, it would not prove that a person cannot be saved apart from baptism. It would serve as a call to remember our baptism in which we pledged allegiance to Christ since Paul assumes that all Christians have been baptized just as he assumes all Christians partake of the Lord’s supper. Baptism is part of the normal conversion experience of entering into the Christian religion since it would take place on the same day as one’s trusting in Christ. But it is better to see this washing as the washing of regeneration which is done by the Holy Spirit, not by us with water. Just as justification and positional sanctification are works of God, this washing should also be the work of God. This washing is one of the reasons why the Corinthians live differently than they did before. But there are many people who have been baptized who live no differently than before they were baptized. If baptism causes regeneration, then everyone who has been baptized should live differently after their baptism because now they have the indwelling Holy Spirit.

[8]See 94. Baptism for an explanation of this verse.

[9]Argument: Because baptism clothes us with Christ, we must be baptized in order to become Christians. Response: Baptism is spoken of in this manner because it is part of our public profession of faith in Christ. Clothing ourselves with Christ is a metaphor that likens our testimony concerning Christ in baptism to identifying ourselves with him. In baptism, we publicly identify ourselves as Christians to the world around us. The truth that all Christians in the first century would have been baptized upon profession of their faith serves as one of the means which unites all Christians together in the church. Because we have all been baptized into the same baptism and clothed ourselves with the same Christ, we are all one in him regardless if we are Jews or Gentiles (Eph 4:4-5). Paul is using baptism as a polemic against the false teachers who taught that a person must become Jewish to be saved. Since Gentile believers have already joined the visible church through baptism, they do not need to becomes Jews to be part of the body of Christ.

[10]This “washing of water” is not baptism, but is a metaphor describing the result of the application of the Word of God to the church. As water cleanses the body, the water of God’s preached word is a means the Holy Spirit uses to bring sanctification to the bride of Christ. The word is the instrument of this washing, not literal water. A washing in literal water does not bring about sanctification whereas washing ourselves in the Word of God does bring holiness as a means of grace. Our sanctification as Christians is a fruit of the death of Christ. The sanctification of this verse is specifically positional sanctification which is perfect and complete in the life of every Christian. The Word of God is the instrument of both positional and progressive sanctification.

[11]Argument: Baptism is when the circumcision of Christ takes place which means if a person has not been baptized, he has not experienced regeneration. Response: Baptism is the proclamation that we have received what circumcision pointed to. Hence, there is no need to be circumcised to be saved since we already have the circumcision of the heart which is superior to physical circumcision. This argument confuses the sign of baptism with the thing signified. Both baptism and circumcision picture regeneration, but they do not cause regeneration. As in Romans 6:3-5, Paul is calling on Christians to remember their baptism because it was then that they publicly professed faith in Christ. Because Christians have already entered into the local church through baptism, they do not need to be circumcised to be saved.

[12]Like Ephesians 5:26, this washing is not a literal washing in water, but the washing of regeneration. Washing is a metaphor or picture of regeneration. As water cleanses the body, regeneration cleanses the soul or heart of man. The renewal of the Holy Spirit is parallel to the washing of regeneration which gives further evidence that this washing is not literal, but spiritual.

[13]Argument: Since the law changed after the death and resurrection of Christ, the requirements for salvation have changed. People living before the death of Christ could be saved without baptism while baptism is now a requirement for salvation. Response: This verse has nothing to do with requirements for salvation since everything that was necessary for our salvation was secured by Christ for his people when he died and rose again. The change in the law in Hebrews is not the addition of requirements for salvation, but the abrogation of the Old Testament sacrificial system. The author of Hebrews is explaining why it is that we no longer have to offer sacrifices for sin. Because the Levitical priesthood has been abolished, its sacrificial laws are no more. In the Melchizedek priesthood, there is only one sacrifice for sins. To add additional requirements for salvation in the new covenant era would make salvation more difficult now than for Old Testament saints. How is the Melchizedek priesthood superior to that of Aaron if it is harder to be saved now than it was then? Justification has always been by faith alone (Rom 4:1-8).

[14]Argument: Because baptism “now saves you,” the act of baptism saves us. A person cannot be saved apart from it. Response: The physical action of immersion in water does not save us, but appealing to God for a clean conscience in repentance. It is repentance that saves, not the action of immersion which only removes dirt from the body. Baptism is one expression of repentance and a person does not have to be immersed in water in order to appeal to God asking for forgiveness. To do so would be to make repentance dependent on the availability of enough water to immerse a person. Baptism saves as an act of repentance, not through the action of immersion in water. Going down into the water does not save anyone but only removes dirt from the body. That is why Peter immediately clarifies what he means so that he is not misunderstood by those who might think he is teaching that the act of baptism itself saves.