Mark 16: Significance of early miraculous signs & Christian Baptism
Opinions on the importance of baptism range all the way from the notion that it is vital to salvation, to the idea that it’s just a ritual marking church membership. The range of opinion reveals why there's much uncertainty about the significance of this ordinance.
Actually, scripture teaches that God requires those who receive Christ in salvation to be baptized as a public witness, a proclamation that they have died to the old carnal way of life, and have been resurrected to new life in Christ. Immersion in water signifies death and burial of the old carnal man, and rising out of the water signifies resurrection to a new life of righteousness that is pleasing to God (Rom.6:4). Baptism signifies a comm- itment from which there can be no turning back, making a mark on a person’s memory to ever remind him that any degree of return to the old life is always very serious error.
The main problem with understanding the nature of baptism is the fact that so many people prefer their own private interpretation of what scripture teaches in regard to baptism, including modern translators, as well as readers, and some readers fail to grasp the teaching. 1 Peter 3:20,21 is particularly notable as having been the object of variety in both translation and interpretation (see essay 5m).
Baptism by water Is Not Necessary for Salvation
16. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
Mk.16:16 has been used to justify the notion that water baptism is vitial
to salvation, which would be a form of works salvation, and so is
erroneous interpretation. First we notice that in the second clause
of verse 16, failure to believe is the only cause of damnation, there
being no association of baptism with damnation. Thus baptism isn't essential to avoid hell, meaning it is not essential to salvation.
This puts the meaning of baptism in the first clause of the verse in
a different perspective so that it relates to salvation in a
different sense than as a qualification for heaven.
That the type of baptism is not specified indicates the sense of what is taught requires some study. An apparent two-fold baptism is indicated, first that a person's true belief is followed by baptism of the Spirit, which is God's response to true belief essential to salvation. Second, true belief leading to salvation is normally followed by water baptism as a first public act of the kind of obedience that marks true salvation, identifying us with the death, burial and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Water baptism is a public testi-mony that we are willing to die to sin & the old man, putting it forever behind us, and this is something that those whose testimony is false don't want to do.
We should also note that the resurrection part of the symbolism of water baptism represents Spirit baptism that is the power enabling us to live as the new man faithful to Christ. False professions usually go
no further than the verbal aspect, and water baptism is evidence that
true belief is involved as the first step in a life of
obedience and dedication to Christ & His will. It marks the turning
point when we leave the old life and enter into the new life, acting as a permanent reminder of our commitment to Christ and our
death to the old life so that we must never go back to the old life, even
under the threat of physical death. Indeed, we are always ready to
leave everything pertaining to the world of the old life, and join Christ
in the ultimate new life of His kingdom for which we greatly long.
To sum-up the role of baptized in the first clause of the verse, first of all it refers to Spirit baptism that confers salvation, and second it refers to water baptism that acts as a kind of exclamation mark emphasizing that believeth refers to genuine belief, the kind that is backed-up by the action of commitment.
Mark 16:17, 18 - Miraculous signs
17. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Mark 16:16-18 indicates that baptism served as a hallmark of true belief in the first-century church when the Christian faith was first being established in the world. A special endowment of God’s favor temporarily accompanied true believers at that time in history to ensure that everyone could recognize that God approved of the work of the church as a new institution serving Him. As verses 17 & 18 indicate, true believers at that time in history did miraculous things like healing the sick, casting out devils and displaying immunity to effects of deadly poison & serpents encounter-ed accidentally in the practice of the faith (as was the case when Paul encountered the venomous serpent and healed many afflicted with sickness in Acts 28:1-9). Thus baptism that began true faith in the first century started people on a great adventure with God. Today, it still marks the beginning of our adventure with God that is still very notable to us personally since it is the working-out of our new life in Christ.
The doctrine of believer’s baptism: The Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8
course baptism without true belief is of no value since there is no
leaving of the old life, and no real identification with Christ in His
death burial and Resurrection, even when immersion is the mode of
such baptism. We confirm this biblical teach- ing through Acts 8:36-38
36: …See, here is water; what doth hinder me (eunuch) to be baptized?
37: And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.
And he…said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
38: …and they went down both into the water…and he baptized him.
36:..the eunuch said, "Look here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?”
38: And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the
eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.
The KJV Acts 8:37 limits baptism to believers in God’s Son. With verse 37 absent in the NIV Greek text, anyone of any belief can be baptized. Some may conclude that baptism, not belief, is the vital thing, a popular modern concept. They may see no need for faith in God’s Son.
Scholars prefer short readings, and see no omission here since verse 37 has minor manuscript support.* But the NIV indicates an omission, and the eunuch’s confession of Jesus as the Son of God denies Cerinthian-Gnostic dogma on Jesus having an earthly father, so we see a likely cause of this short reading. Verse 37 is genuine, for in its absence, Philip doesn't answer the eunuch's question on what hindered his baptism.
*Scholars see merit in lightly-supported Alexandrian readings, but not in any such traditional ones. As discussed in the essay on the Johannine Comma, a manuscript minority can preserve truth, and scholars grasp this concept, but invoke it only in the case of Alexandrian texts, thus favoring a corrupt text.
The earliest known support for verse 37 is a 6th-century Greek manuscript, scripture quotes by church elders & the Old Latin Bible. Being in the Old Latin Bible, the verse was in the Traditional Text of the early western biblical church, while the Alexandrian manuscripts weren’t in use by any church for ~1400 years. This verse is preserved for the bible-based church that has been favored in retaining all of the Word. Regarding manuscript tampering, a bible believer need only rely on the traditional text of bible- based churches, trusting God to preserve His Word for him.