In Defense of Mark 16:16 (Part 2)

This article is the second of a 3-part series written by Travis Quertermous and appearing in POWER, in three consecutive issues beginning with December 2002. It gives a defense of the long ending of Mark and deals with other attacks on the true teaching of that section of Scripture. I commend it to your reading. I thought it was quite excellent.

In Defense of Mark 16:16 (Part 2)

by Travis L. Quertermous

    In the last issue of POWER, we began a study of the common arguments made in a vain attempt to explain away the plain truth taught in Mark 16:16 that water baptism is essential to one’s salvation. Let us now turn our attention to three other quibbles denominational debaters have made against Mark 16:16.


    It is common for sectarian “scholars” to contend that the baptism of Mark 16:16 is Holy Spirit baptism and not an immersion in water. Commenting on this verse, denominational writer Charles C. Ryrie of Dallas Theological Seminary said, “This may be a reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13). Water baptism does not save.” [Charles C. Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible, NKJV (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985): 1570]

    In the first place, 1 Corinthians 12:13 refers to a baptism “by one Spirit” and not “in the Spirit” as Ryrie evidently thinks. The Holy Spirit is represented as the administrator of baptism and not the element in which one is immersed. Thus, the passage has no reference to Holy Spirit baptism, but rather is a figurative reference to one’s obedience to the Spirit’s inspired commands to be immersed in water into Christ. It is in this metaphorical sense that we are baptized “by one Spirit” (cf., John 4:1-3; Gal 3:27; Rom 6:3-4).

    Brother C.E.W. Dorris has done a good job of refuting this quibble when he wrote of Mark 16:16: “Water baptism is a command, not a promise. Holy Spirit baptism is a promise, not a command. We obey commands and enjoy promises. Baptism in the commission is an act of obedience performed by the believer, and therefore it is a command. This being true, and since the baptism of the Holy Spirit is always a promise and never a command, therefore the baptism of the commission is not Spirit baptism.” [C.E.W. Dorris, A Commentary on the Gospel According to Mark (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 1975): 387]

    In addition, we would add that only Jesus Christ is said to administer Holy Spirit baptism (Mt 3:11), while the baptism of Mark 16:16 is plainly to be administered by man (cf., Mt 28:19). Thus, it must follow that such is water baptism.


    Another objection that is often thrown out is to accuse churches of Christ of being inconsistent in preaching Mark 16:16 while rejecting what the rest of the passage says about evangelism and miracles. In their 1947 debate, Glen V. Tingley asked Brother W. Curtis Porter if he believed in casting out devils, speaking in tongues, handling serpents, drinking poison, and healing the sick per Mark 16:17-18. He further charged: “And the church of Christ has the fewest missionaries and do the least missionary work; and it professes to believe only that by the preaching of the Word can men be saved; and it is the most lax in teaching the word around the world of any and all denominations in America! Let me ask my worthy opponent … to explain why he does not follow the fifteenth verse as well. He places such great emphasis on the sixteenth and forgets to remember the fifteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth.” [W. Curtis Porter and Glenn V. Tingley, Porter-Tingley Debate (Murfreesboro, TN: DeHoff Publications, 1947): 108]

    In responding to these accusations, brother Porter pointed out that Tingley just did not know what he was talking about with regard to missionary work. He pointed out that the Broadway Church of Christ in Lubbock, TX, was itself sponsoring 40 missionaries to Europe and spending $160,000 in the effort. [Porter and Tingley, op. cit., 122]. Remember that this was in 1947, right after World War II! Churches of Christ have more missionaries in the field today than ever before!

    On the charge of not believing Mark 16:17-18, brother Porter replied: “Do I accept all of Mark 16:9-20? Yes, I accept Mark 16:9-20 just as I do all the rest of the word of God. Perhaps you want to know about the performing of miracles here. Well, do you perform them, Tingley? My friend is very hoarse tonight. Looks like if he can do all these miracles, he’d have some of his brethren cure that hoarseness and lets get on.” (Laughter).

    “Certainly, if the Lord is performing through him and through his brethren all these miracles here, such as taking up serpents, and drinking deadly poison, and things of that kind, and healing the sick, even raising the dead, why they could cure a little hoarseness in a man’s throat. Certainly, that could be done, and the fact that my friend goes along through this debate with hoarseness is going to prove that he doesn’t, and his brethren do not, possess the miraculous powers that’s mentioned here, or he would not allow it to continue. Incidentally, while he is at it, he might just relieve my blood malady, and I won’t have to take any more atomic energy.” (Laughter).

    “But I believe, according to 1 Cor 13:8-10, that the time was coming when those miraculous powers would be discontinued; and that time has come, and, therefore, I’m not trying to handle snakes and drink deadly poison.” [Porter and Tingley, op. cit.,198-199]

“SHALL BE SAVED” …In Heaven?

    There is one more common objection to Mark 16:16 and that is to suggest that the passage refers to eternal salvation in heaven and not salvation from sin. Baptist debater Ben M. Bogard put it this way: “To what time does damnation look? Evidently to the future. To what time does salvation look? To the future, and not to the immediate remission of sins. And so, he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved—in heaven! He that believeth not shall be damned—in hell. Undoubtedly one points toward heaven and the other toward hell. You might as well insist damnation here on earth immediately as to insist salvation here on earth as a result of what’s done.” [N.B. Hardeman and Ben M. Bogard, Hardeman-Bogard Debate (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 1938): 137]

    Such a view left him with affirming that one must be baptized to go to heaven while denying it was essential to salvation! As usual, Bogard was all wrong here. The salvation and condemnation mentioned in Mark 16:16 refer to one’s salvation from his alien sins or being lost in them presently. This is seen from paralleling Mark’s account of the Great Commission with Luke’s. Brother Thomas B. Warren said: “Now, of course, Luke 24:46-47 says, ‘repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations beginning from Jerusalem,’ and the ‘salvation’ of Mark 16:16 … is analogous and parallel with ‘the remission of sins’ in Luke 24:46-47.” [Thomas B. Warren and L.S. Ballard, The Warren-Ballard Debate on the Plan of Salvation, Third Printing (Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press, 1979): 123]

    We will conclude this study next issue, the Lord willing by refuting an argument against Mark 16:16 based on the false doctrine of salvation by faith alone.