A Study of Mark 16: 16


     Jesus said in Mark 16: 16, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Mark 16: 16 is part of Jesus' Great Commission. This charge Jesus gave his apostles was universal and for this final dispensation, Jew and Gentile. Since it involves salvation, it is of the utmost relevancy and interest to all men today. In this study, we shall approach an exegesis of Mark 16: 16 by noticing its place in the Great Commission, an exploration of the grammar and consequent meaning of the verse, examining the arguments that the verse is not authentic, by considering five different views of Mark 16: 16, and by noticing where God positioned baptism in relation to the salvation of the non-Christian.

     The Great Commission and Mark 16: 16. The teaching of Jesus in Mark 16: 16 is consistent with the teaching of Jesus' found elsewhere relative to the Great Commission. Notice the Great Commission as recorded in the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke:

    "18: And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen " (Matt. 28). "15: And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mk. 16). "46: And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: 47: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48: And ye are witnesses of these things. 49: And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Lk. 24).

     When these accounts of the Great Commission are studied and compared, the following truths are seen: Jesus has all authority; based on this authority, he commissioned the apostles; the gospel is for "all nations;" disciples are made by baptizing them ("the present participle denotes the mode of initiation into discipleship. Make them disciples by baptizing them," Pulpit Commentary, regarding Matthew 28: 19); the apostles were to baptize into the name of the Godhead; those who believed and were baptized would be saved; repentance and remission of sins began in Jerusalem, Acts 2: 38; the apostles would be prepared and empowered for the work of the Great Commission; the thus made disciples were to be taught all things; and Jesus would be with the apostles in their work (Matt. 28: 18; vs. 19; vs. 19; vs. 19; vs. 19; Mk. 16: 16; Lk. 24: 47; vs. 49, cp. Mk. 16: 20; Matt. 28: 20; vs. 20). (This Great Commission was originally fulfilled in about 56 A. D. as seen in the words, "Their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world" (Rom. 10: 18, cp. Col. 1: 5, 6, 23).

     The grammar of Mark 16: 16. The language, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" is basically a simple declarative statement. One grammarian observes:

     "The two participles are substantivized and describe the person that shall be saved ("believeth" and "baptized," dm)" comments R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. Mark's Gospel, pg. 765). "'Believeth' and 'baptized' are aorists," Lenski continues (by aorists, Lenski means denote single acts, dm). "Both verbs have forward or anticipated fulfillment (goal). This goal to be obtained is 'salvation.'" (Ibid., pg. 766).

     The Pulpit Commentary has been acclaimed to be the best general Bible commentary ever produced. While it is the product of Baptist scholarship, scholars of all religious professions recognize it. I now quote from this work and I shall include more from the Lutheran commentator, Lenski, regarding the language and teaching of Mark 16: 16.

     "These words are very important. The first clause opposes the notion that faith alone is sufficient for salvation, without those works which are the fruit of faith" (this statement is highly significant in view of the Baptist's stance that faith only saves and that baptism is not essential to salvation, see Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 16, pg. 348. Dr. Lenski's comments are also important, especially in view of his Lutheran affiliation): "Both acts (belief and baptism, dm) would precede the future act salvation; and the meaning would be that the moment one comes to faith and baptism salvation would be his," Lenski observes, "…For one thing, faith and baptism always go together; the moment a man believes he will want and will have baptism. By believing he clings to the gospel, and part of that gospel is baptism. But believing is subjective, the act of baptism is objective. They go together in this way. Baptism cannot, therefore, be a mere sign or symbol that bestows nothing. If it were no more it could not be so vitally connected with salvation. Baptism bestows and the believing baptized person accepts and receives this great 'salvation' from the Savior. For anyone who comes to faith baptism is the great means of grace, i.e., the channel by which forgiveness, life, and salvation are bestowed upon him. As he believes the word, so he will demand all that the word promises in baptism and thus the baptismal act itself. He who claims to believe but refuses and rejects baptism most surely deceives himself about believing; his could be only a highly pathological faith….In the negative statement, nothing is said about being baptized simply because nothing needs to be said….By disbelieving the gospel he disbelieves also the baptism which is a part of it, hence he will refuse to be baptized…" (Vol. 2, pg. 765ff.).

     The matter of the authenticity of Mark 16: 9-20. Some higher Biblical criticism has sought to cast doubt on the genuineness of the last twelve verses of Mark 16, a passage that includes verse 16. However, the mentioned events resident in Mark 16: 9-20 are found elsewhere (in general, the matter of Mary Magdalene is found in Jn. 20: 1-8, cp. Mk. 16: 9-11; Jesus' appearance to the two disciples is found in detail in Lk. 24: 13-35, compare Mk. 16: 12, 13; and Jesus' appearance to the eleven is found in Lk. 24: 36-43, compare Mk. 16: 14). As far as Jesus' teaching in Mark 16: 16 relative to the essential nature of water baptism, this teaching is found in many places in the scriptures (cp. Matt. 28: 19; Acts 2: 38, compare with Lk. 24: 47; Acts 22: 16; I Pet. 3: 21).

     Concerning the manuscript authority for the inclusion of Mark 16: 9-20 as part of the canon, there is sufficient evidence. Mark 16: 9-20 is found in the Alexandrian and in many, if not most, of the ancient uncial manuscripts. The passage was cited by Irenaeus and Tatian of the second century, and by Hyppolytus and Dyonisius of Alexandria of the third century, all of whom lived before the earliest existing manuscript was written. Hence, there is no good reason for rejecting Mark 16: 9-20 as spurious and every reason for including it in the text as genuine.

     Different extant views regarding Mark 16: 16. It is strange indeed at how many different views there are of the simple statement: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Allow me to briefly mention five common views.

     According to Baptists, Mark 16: 16 reads: "He that believeth and is not baptized shall be saved." Yet, this is not what the verse means and certainly not what it says.

     According to Catholicism, the verse should read: "He that believeth not and is baptized shall be saved." In effect, they would have the verse worded thus because of their belief regarding "baptizing" babies, who are incapable of belief.

     The universalist reads the verse as follows: "He that believeth not and is not baptized shall be saved." They see the verse having this import because of the belief of universal and unconditional salvation.

     The atheist's verses of Mark 16: 16 is, "He that believeth and is baptized shall not be saved." The atheist does not believe in God or in salvation.

     Contrast the Baptist, Catholic, universalist, and atheist's views of Mark 16: 16 with what the verse really says: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."

     Where God placed water baptism relative to the non-Christian and salvation. It is a fact that the big stir about Mark 16: 16 is because of the obvious essential importance that Jesus places on baptism in the verse. Some think, it appears, if they can discredit or explain away Jesus' teaching about baptism in Mark 16: 16, they will have protected their teaching regarding the non-essentiality of water baptism. Let us very simply consider where God has positioned baptism: Acts 2: 38, baptism is before the remission of sins; Romans 6: 4, baptism is before newness of life; Acts 22: 16, baptism is before sin being washed away. In I Peter 3: 21, baptism is placed before salvation. Jesus placing baptism before salvation, then, is congruous with the teaching throughout the New Testament.

     As we noticed at the outset, the language "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" constitutes a simple compound declarative statement that is coupled by the Greek conjunction kai. Kai ("and") is a coordinating conjunction that joins items of equal importance. Hence, "belief" and "baptism" are of equal importance and both constitute the climate for the obtaining of salvation. Both belief and baptism are necessary, according to the syntax of Mark 16: 16, in order to be saved. As noticed, the person who does not believe will not be baptized. Therefore, there was no need to add, "and is not baptized shall be damned." It is man's duty to accept and act upon the scriptures, not to seek to find ways to evade, circumvent, or put aside God's teachings.