This paper addresses the following issue-under-study:

Does an absolute requirement of water baptism negate the salvific efficacy of an otherwise saving gospel (message-in-question)?

In light of what Paul wrote in Galatians 1:6-9, as well as other Scriptural bases, it is my opinion that an absolute requirement of water baptism negates the salvific efficacy of an otherwise saving gospel.  A corollary from my opinion is that a person who at the time of their “conversion” actually believed that water baptism was a necessary requirement for salvation was never saved at that time.

My more detailed analysis follows.

My English translation and the ESV (English Standard Version) translation are below:

Galatians 1:6-9 (STB) – 6 I am shocked [thaumozō] that you are so quickly deserting [metotitheshe] Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are distressing you [tarassoutes] and want to pervert [metastrepsai] the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary [par’] to what we have preached to you, he is to be condemned to hell [anathema]! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary [par’] to what you received, he is to be condemned to hell [anathema]!

Galatians 1:6–9 (ESV) – 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

I take away from the text several overarching observations applicable to the issue-under-study. 

First, when Paul writes that there is really not another gospel, he confirms that there is only one saving gospel of Jesus Christ which is a gospel of grace.  This implies that a message that relies on the law or on a person’s works does not save.

Second, any other “gospel” than the one saving gospel of Jesus Christ is in reality a “different gospel.”  This means that a “different gospel” is not a saving gospel.

Third, Paul’s desire for anyone preaching a “different gospel” to be accursed (or condemned to hell) seems to confirm that any “different gospel” does not possess salvific efficacy.    

Let’s look at the Judaizers’ message.  Acts 15:1 (ESV) defines the Judaizers’ message:

1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

The Study Note (SN) from the NET Bible [New English Translation, Full Notes Edition (2019) Thomas Nelson Publishing] at page 2113 with respect to the term “unless you are circumcised” contained in Acts 15:1 expands on the issue:

These teachers from Judea were teaching that Gentiles could not be saved unless they kept the law of Moses in regard to circumcision.  Thus according to them a Gentile had to first become a proselyte to Judaism, including circumcision, before one could become a Christian.  This party is sometimes known (collectively) as Judaizers.  They did not question that Gentiles could come into the community, but disagreed with Paul and Barnabus on what basis they could do so. 

Boldfacing added.

Along this same line, one encyclopedia [Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Judaizers. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1236). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.  Boldfacing added] presents the question that the 1st Century church faced:

The growing number of gentile converts to Christianity forced Jewish Christians to face a very difficult problem: Must a Gentile first become a Jew in order to be a Christian? Some Jewish Christians gave a positive answer to this question, and these became known as the circumcision party (Acts 11:2; Gal 2:12). Others, such as Peter and Barnabas, and especially Paul, vigorously disagreed.

The Judaizers’ message lacked salvific efficacy.  The overarching observations about Galatians 1:6-9 reveal that the Judaizers’ “different gospel” lacked salvific efficacy.  More specifically, when there is only one saving gospel it follows that a gospel different from the one saving gospel cannot possess salvific efficacy. 

In addition, what Paul wrote in Galatians 5:2–6 (NASB95) very clearly teaches that circumcision negated the salvific efficacy of the Judaizers’ message:

2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

In reference to Galatians 5:2, one commentator [Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, p. 62). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers. Boldfacing in the original.  Boldfacing added] writes:

5:2. Those who return to the law face six negative consequences. First, it invalidates Christ’s work on the cross for Christ will be no value to you. By submitting to circumcision, a person demonstrated that they were not fully trusting in Christ. Instead they added their own works to what Christ had done, thus invalidating the sufficiency of Christ for salvation.

What Anders says bears repeating:

By submitting to circumcision, a person demonstrated that they were not fully trusting in Christ. Instead they added their own works to what Christ had done, thus invalidating the sufficiency of Christ for salvation.

Still another commentator (George, T. (1994). Galatians (Vol. 30, p. 357). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers) writes:

For the Galatians to accept this heretical theology and the practice derived from it would mean that they had rejected God’s all-sufficient provision for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross.

Finally, one resource (Boles, K. L. (1993). Galatians & Ephesians (Ga 5:2). Joplin, MO: College Press, boldfacing in the original) makes the connection between Galatians 5:2 and verses 6-7:

Christ will be of no value to you at all.

Christ will “profit nothing” to those whose trust is in their own work of keeping laws such as circumcision. It is not merely a matter of adding an innocuous “extra” to the gospel; it is a matter of changing it to no gospel at all (1:6–7). Why is this? It is because the whole issue of faith and trust is at stake. To have faith in Jesus Christ is to trust his sacrifice to be adequate in God’s eyes to save the sinner. To believe that his sacrifice is in any way deficient is not to trust—not to believe.

It is important to consider the last sentence of Boles.  It points out that any “gospel” that comprises “Christ +” is not a saving gospel. 

Overall, it seems fair to say that the Judaizers’ message, which demanded circumcision, was a “different gospel” that lacked salvific efficacy.  In other words, circumcision negated the salvific efficacy of the Judaizers’ “different gospel.”

In our issue-under-study, the message-in-question is salvific, except that it requires water baptism.  If water baptism is functionally equivalent to circumcision in the Judaizers’ message, then message-in-question would be a “different gospel” per Galatians 1:6-9.  If it is a “different gospel” it lacks salvific efficacy.  In other words, water baptism negates the salvific efficacy of the message-in-question.

Let’s compare water baptism and circumcision. As set forth above, the Judaizers’ message required a Gentile to first become a Jew in order to be saved.  The Judaizers’ message makes no sense unless the Gentile first exercised faith in Christ.  It thus appears that circumcision was post-faith in Christ.

Simplistically speaking, the message-in-question first requires a person to exercise faith in Jesus Christ.  Next, in order to be saved, the person must undergo water baptism.  Water baptism is an event that is post-faith in Christ event so the message-in-question proclaims “Christ +” and not Christ alone.

The Judaizers’ circumcision and the water baptism of our message-in-question are post-faith in Christ events.  The fact they are post-faith in Christ and mandatory for salvation render them functionally equivalent.

Per Galatians 5:2, it seems clear that any message that mandates a post-faith in Christ event lacks salvific efficacy.  Consistent with some of the commentators, the requirement of a post-faith event:

· shows a person was not trusting in Christ for salvation;

· shows a person added their own works to what Christ has done, thus, invalidating the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for salvation;

· shows that a person rejected the finished work of Christ on the Cross; and

· contradicts the teaching that to believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is in any way deficient reveals a lack of complete trust, which is not saving faith. 

It thus appears that the requirement of a post-faith in Christ event, e.g., water baptism, destroys the salvific efficacy of an otherwise saving gospel message.

To make certain my application is not alone “in right field,” below are excerpts from a few commentaries that appear to be consistent with my application.  One commentator [Bruce, F. F. (1982). The Epistle to the Galatians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 80). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. (emphasis added)] writes:

No one would think of calling this substitute message a ‘gospel’, Paul implies, except with the intention of confusing the minds of believers. Gospel it is not; it is a message of bondage, not of freedom. It is a form of doctrine of salvation by law-keeping from which Paul himself had been liberated by the true gospel which he received on the Damascus road ‘by revelation of Jesus Christ’ (v 12).  … But why should he express himself so vehemently against those who preached a different message from his own? Partly because he held the preaching of salvation by law-keeping to be a snare and a delusion, which put the souls of men and women in jeopardy; partly, also, because of its adverse implications for the authenticity of Christ.

A second commentator [George, T. (1994). Galatians (Vol. 30, pp. 93, 98-99). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers (emphasis added)] writes:

In these verses Paul intensified the antithesis between himself and his Galatian opponents by pronouncing a solemn curse upon anyone who proclaimed a counterfeit gospel. The fact that Paul issued this condemnation in the strongest words possible and then repeated it for emphasis makes this one of the harshest statements in the entire New Testament. It does not set well on modern ears accustomed to tolerance at any price and a doctrine of God devoid of the notions of judgment and wrath. Yet here it stands, stubbornly and ominously, at the forefront of Paul’s concern. How are we to understand this anathema?

What is the fate of one who thus perverts the gospel of Christ, be it Paul, any other human teacher, or even a messenger straight from heaven itself? The answer is given in two words: anathema estō, “let him be accursed!” Originally the word anathema, which literally means “something that is placed up,” referred to any object set aside for divine purposes, whether an offering in the temple set aside for divine blessing or the captured booty of Achan reserved for divine cursing (Josh 7:11–12). In time the negative sense of the word prevailed, and anathema became synonymous with anything or anyone under the “ban” (Heb., ḥerem) and hence delivered over to God’s wrath for final judgment. Later in church history anathema sit! became the standard postscript pronounced by the church on a notorious heretic. This is a derivative use of the word since, at best, the church’s decision can only be a ratification of the pronouncement of God’s own excluding wrath.

To be anathematized then means far more than to be excommunicated. It means nothing less than to suffer the eternal retribution and judgment of God. The GNB comes close to capturing the essence of Paul’s tone in this passage, “Let him be condemned to hell!”

In conclusion, my opinion is that the requirement of water baptism destroys the salvific efficacy of the message-in-question.

What about a convert who trusts in the message-in-question, can he or she be saved?  My opinion is that a convert who placed his or her trust or faith in a “different gospel”, i.e., a message that lacks salvific efficacy, cannot have been saved.  While on the surface it seems harsh, my opinion makes sense.  If a message lacks salvific efficacy, how can it save?  It cannot save.  No matter how sincere or committed the convert, a non-saving message cannot save.  This means that the convert who placed their trust or faith in the message-in-question cannot be saved. 

If my analysis is correct, and based on my current understanding of Scripture I believe it is, what does it mean for me?  How am I to interact with those who attend a church that mandates water baptism as an absolute requirement for salvation?  If I care about them, and I do, how to do I approach the issue?  These are important questions to ponder.

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