This series is taken from Chafer's Systematic Theology by Lewis Sperry Chafer, Volume III, Chapter XX (under Soteriology):
In any discussion respecting the word βαπτίζω it must be recognized that this term is used in the New Testament to represent two different things—a real baptism by the Spirit of God by which the believer is joined in union to Christ and is in Christ, and a ritual baptism with water. John distinguished these when he said, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire" (Matt. 3:11). Though this word sustains a primary and secondary meaning and these are closely related ideas, the fact that the same identical word is used for both real and ritual baptism suggests an affiliation between the two ideas with which this word is associated. In fact, Ephesians 4:5 declares that there is but one baptism. The contemplation of these facts respecting this word is essential to a right understanding of the theme under discussion. The question naturally arises when it is asserted that one must believe and be baptized, whether a real or a ritual baptism is in view. There are two passages demanding attention:
Mark 16:15–16. "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."
A strange inattention to the evidence which serves as proof that reference is made in this text to real baptism by the Spirit, has characterized the interpretation of the passage. This evidence should at least be weighed for all that it is. Should it prove upon examination that reference is made to real baptism by the Spirit, which baptism is essential to salvation, the difficulty of a supposed regenerating baptism is immediately dismissed. Dr. James W. Dale, in his Christic and Patristic Baptism (pp. 392–94), has discussed this vital issue in an extended argument. He writes:
All, so far as I am aware, who interpret the language of the Evangelist as indicating a ritual baptism, do so without having examined the question— "May not this be the real baptism by the Holy Spirit and not ritual baptism with water?" This vital issue has been assumed without investigation, and determined against the real baptism of the Scriptures, without a hearing. Such assumption is neither grounded in necessity, nor in the warrant of Scripture; whether regarded in its general teaching or in that of this particular passage. That there is no necessity for limiting the baptism of this passage to a rite is obvious, because the Scriptures furnish us with a real baptism by the Spirit, as well as with its symbol ritual baptism, from which to choose. There is no scriptural warrant in the general teaching of the Bible for identifying a rite with salvation; nor can such warrant be assumed in this particular passage (which does identify baptism and salvation), because there is no evidence on the face of the passage to show, that the baptism is ritual with water, rather than real by the Spirit. These points must be universally admitted: 1. The passage does not declare a ritual baptism by express statement; 2. It contains no statement which involves a ritual baptism as a necessary inference; 3. The Scriptures present a real and a ritual baptism, by the one or the other of which to meet the exigencies of any elliptically stated baptism; 4. That baptism which meets, in its scripturally defined nature and power, the requirements of any particular passage, must be the baptism designed by such passage. We reject ritual baptism from all direct connection with this passage, in general, because, the passage treats of salvation and its conditions (belief and baptism). All out of the Papal church admit, that ritual baptism has not the same breadth with belief as a condition of salvation, and are, therefore, compelled to introduce exceptions for which no provision is made in the terms of this passage. We accept the real baptism by the Holy Spirit as the sole baptism directly contemplated by this passage, in general, because, it meets in the most absolute and unlimited manner as a condition of salvation the obvious requirement on the face of the passage, having the same breadth with belief, and universally present in every case of salvation. We accept this view in particular: Because it makes the use of "baptized" harmonious with the associate terms, "believeth" and "saved." The use of these terms, as well as "baptized," is elliptical. "Believe" has in the New Testament a double usage; the one limited to the action of the intellect, as, "the devils believe and tremble"; the other embraces and controls the affections of the heart, as, "with the heart we believe unto righteousness." It is the higher form of "belief" that is universally recognized as belonging to this passage. "Saved," also, is used in the New Testament, with a double application; as of the body, "all hope that we should be saved was taken away"; and of the soul, "He shall save his people from their sins." Again it is this higher salvation that is accepted without question. So, "baptized" is used in a lower and a higher meaning; applied in the one case to the body, as "I baptized you with water"; and in the other case applied to the soul, as "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost." By what just reasoning, now, can "believeth," and "saved," be taken in the highest sense, and "baptized," in the same sentence and in the same construction, be brought down to the lowest? We object to such diversity of interpretation as unnatural and without any just support. The only tenable supply of the ellipsis must be, "He that believeth" (with the heart upon Christ), "and is baptized" (by the Holy Ghost into Christ) "shall be saved" (by the redemption of Christ). The construction allows and the case requires, that a relation of dependence and unity subsist between "believeth" and "baptized." There is evidently some vinculum binding these words and the ideas which they represent, together. Middleton (Greek article, in loco) says: "In the Complutens. edit. the second participle has the article, which would materially alter the sense. It would imply, that he who believeth as well as he who is baptized, shall be saved; whereas the reading of the MSS. insists on the fulfilment of both conditions in every individual." This is true; but it is not all the truth. This faith and this baptism must not only not be disjoined by being assigned to different persons, but they must not be disjoined by being assigned to different spheres, the one spiritual and the other physical; and being conjoined, in like spiritual nature, and meeting together in the same person, the whole truth requires, that they shall be recognized not as two distinct things existing harmoniously together, but as bearing to each other the intimate and essential relation of cause and effect, that is to say, the baptism is a consequence proceeding from the belief.
Believing has the influence over the soul, through the power of God in accordance with His promise in the gospel, of bringing the one who believes into the estate of salvation with all its values which are received from Christ. The new relation to Christ of being in Him is wrought by the Holy Spirit's baptism, and it could not be absent in the case of any true salvation. On the other hand, all who have been saved have been saved quite apart from ritual baptism. The form of speech which this text presents is common in the Bible, namely, that of passing from the main subject to one of the features belonging to that subject, as, "Thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak" (Luke 1:20). The word dumb is amplified by the words not able to speak. In the text in question, the word believeth is amplified by the words and is baptized, and with reference to real baptism which is an integral part of salvation.
Acts 2:38. "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."
A very general impression obtains among informed students of the Sacred Text that the translation of this passage is injured by the rendering of two prepositions ἐπί and εἰς by the words in and for. That ἐπί is better translated upon, and εἰς is better rendered into would hardly be contested. To this may be added the demand of some worthy scholars that the word believing should be supplied, which would give the following rendering: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you, [believing] upon the name of Jesus Christ into the remission of sins." By so much the passage harmonizes with all other Scripture, which, from the interpreter's standpoint, is imperative (2 Pet. 1:20); and the remission of sins—here equivalent to personal salvation—is made to depend not upon repentance or baptism.
Dr. J. W. Dale is convinced that it is real baptism by the Spirit which is referred to here and also in verse 41. He proposes that the same arguments which he advanced to prove that Mark 16:15–16 refers to real baptism by the Spirit serve as valid evidence in Acts 2:38, 41. He feels a particular relief that there is no need, according to this interpretation, of defending the idea that 3,000 people were baptized by ritual baptism in what could have been but slightly more than half a day and as a surprise necessity for which preparations could not have been made either by the candidates or administrators, whereas, Dr. Dale contends, to reckon this baptism to have been real and that which unavoidably does enter into the salvation of every soul and does not follow after as a mere testimony, is to encounter no insuperable difficulty whatever. Most of all, he points out, by this interpretation this passage is rescued from the misinterpretation which exalts ritual baptism to the point of being all but essential to salvation.
It is significant that the Apostle Peter follows this exhortation contained in Acts 2:38 with a promise respecting the reception of the Holy Spirit. In the disproportionate emphasis which has been placed on ritual baptism—doubtless stimulated by disagreement on its mode— the great undertaking of the Spirit in real baptism which conditions the believer's standing before God and engenders the true motive for Christian character and service, has been slighted to the point that many apparently are unaware of its existence. Such a situation is not without precedent. At Ephesus the Apostle Paul found certain men who were resting their confidence in "John's baptism," who confessed "We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost" (Acts 19:1–3). In other words, the student would do well to note that the truth regarding the baptism with the Spirit is itself more important than the Christian public, led by sectarian teachers, supposes it to be.
The above examination of two passages, on which the idea of baptismal regeneration is made to rest, has sought to demonstrate that ritual baptism, however administered, is not a condition which is to be added to believing as a necessary step in salvation.