Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 11, 1967
NUMBER 2, PAGE 6b-7a

Jehovah's Witness On Baptism

Ralph Williams

The "Watchtower" magazine, August 1, 1966, contains an article, "Baptism shows faith." We have no quarrel with the title, and much of the content is likewise Scriptural. However, one paragraph clearly reveals a false position on the purpose of baptism. From page 461 we quote:

"Jesus was no sinner! His being submerged under water was not to take away sins. 'He committed no sin, ' says 1 Peter 2:22. Christian baptism is, therefore, not for removing sins, but it is the way to give public evidence of a positive presentation of oneself to God in the midst of an alienated system of things."

Of course this is the generally accepted position of the denominational world, but it is rare to find it stated so flagrantly. Comparing baptism for the sinless Jesus with that of sinful men suggests they are hard pressed for reasons to deny baptism's true purpose. They ought to confess the fallacy of such an argument themselves, unless they are willing to grant that mankind, like Jesus, "committed no sin."

It is significant the article never mentions Acts 2:38 nor 1 Pet.3:21. It does quote Acts 22:16. However, the New World Translation renders it in this questionable and misleading way: "...rise, get baptized and wash your sins away by your calling upon his name." The use of "by calling" appears to be an attempt to transfer the means of washing away sins from baptism to one's "calling." In fact, in a personal letter referring to this verse, they say, "Not by mere water immersion, but by calling on his name are sins washed away." A letter from the Brooklyn headquarters dated Sept. 12, 1966 says such rendering is in agreement with the New Testament, a Translation in the Language of the People by C. B. Williams, Moody Press, which footnotes "by calling" as an "adverbial participle of means." We'll leave that to the translators -- yet it is interesting that the 226 Greek scholars who translated the KJV, RV, ASV and RSV didn't consider this an "adverbial participle of means"!

A kingdom hall leader suggested a letter to Brooklyn for clarification of the Watchtower quotation above. He wasn't prepared to discuss the design of baptism, being more anxious to get on with the "kingdom." Two exchanges with the Watchtower home office confirmed they meant what they said, "baptism is, therefore, not for removing sins."

Their letter Jan. 13, 1967, responding to inquiry about Acts 2:38, states: "Peter said they should repent and be baptized in Jesus' name to get their sins forgiven" (emphasis mine-RW. Watch how they contradict this in the very next paragraph which follows in part). "This repentance and acceptance of Jesus and his cleansing blood was to be shown by baptism in the name of Jesus. The baptism was only a symbol. This immersion in water did not in itself effect forgiveness of sins, washing them away like bath does dirt." A careful reading of 1 Pet. 3:21 may have enlightened their eyes at this point. Peter grants baptism is not designed as a bath solely for physical washing, yet it is nevertheless the means of spiritual cleansing; announcing, "...this is also now saving you, namely, baptism..." (N. W. Transl.). Peter could make such a declaration since the Holy Spirit guided him on Pentecost to preach: "Repent and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins..." (Acts 2:38 N. W. Transl).

Again, they write: "It is Jesus' blood that cleanses from sin, not water." Only an infidel would deny the power of Christ's blood to cleanse. But the question is what means has the Lord chosen for an alien sinner to first contact the blood? The exact expression "for the remission of sins" is used in Matt. 26: 28 referring to the blood and Acts 2:38 to baptism. Again, Jesus shed His blood in death (Jno. 19:34) and we "were baptized into His death" (Rom. 6:3). Then further, one must be "in Christ" to enjoy the blood benefits (Eph. 1:7), but it is the act of baptism that puts a penitent believer into such relationship (Gal. 3:27). When one does not have a pre-determined position to uphold, it isn't difficult to understand baptism is the divinely appointed avenue through which the precious blood flows for the alien sinner.

Still not satisfied with certain evasiveness, one more letter was sent inquiring whether the Jews (Acts 2) or Paul (Acts 22) were forgiven before baptism. The Watchtower answered Feb.23, 1967, stating:

"Forgiveness of one's sins comes about by one's exercising faith in the ransom sacrifice of Jesus. When an individual makes a dedication in his heart to serve God and do his will, calling to God in Jesus' name for forgiveness, his sins can be forgiven. This dedication, of course, precedes baptism. Baptism is simply a symbol and consequently not of credit or value as a sacrament."

This position of the "Jehovah's Witnesses" national headquarters can't possibly be reconciled with the N. T. We would ask them, "Did Jesus tell the truth in Mk. 16:16? Did Peter in Acts 2:38?" Can they not see their teaching is an outright denial of these passages!

The Watchtower strongly insists:" Cornelius ' case establishes that an individual can have his sins forgiven before baptism, since, obviously, Jehovah would not anoint one with his holy Spirit unless his sins had been forgiven, and Cornelius was anointed with holy spirit before his baptism." Note, this letter (2/23/ 67) claims "Cornelius' case establishes" their contention. They seemed less certain a month earlier when they wrote that Cornelius "...was baptized by holy spirit. For this to happen his sins must have been forgiven, yet it was all before he was baptized in water."

Their assertion as to when Cornelius was forgiven is unproven; and plainly a false assumption since it disagrees with other Scriptures bearing on God's singular plan of salvation. It seems logical from Peter's conclusions (Acts 10:47; 11:17; 15:7), and that of the Jerusalem brethren (Acts 11:18), that the Holy Spirit's presence was to convince the Jews of the Gentiles' right to share the Gospel. Thus, "tongues" were not an evidence of forgiveness, but a directive by revelation that Peter offer Cornelius and the other Gentiles forgiveness, which he did in Acts 10:48. Furthermore, Cornelius could not be saved till he heard the proper "words" (Acts 11:14). Peter was not sent to acquaint Cornelius with the Gospel story - that was already known (Acts 10:36-37) - but he went to open the door of salvation to the Gentiles. In doing so Peter used the same "keys of the kingdom" in Acts 10:48 that were used earlier in Acts 2: 38.

The Watchtower evidently thinks to find an easy solution to a difficult question by presumptuously claiming: "... obviously Jehovah would not anoint one with his holy spirit unless his sins had been forgiven." From the standpoint of physical time and human thinking it looks as though the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius while in his unregenerate state. But it's easy to forget "God's ways are not our ways." God is not bound by the restrictions of physical time as we are. Divine foreknowledge may view an event, yet future in human history, as though already come to pass. This is seen with reference to Calvary (1 Pet, 1:19-20; Rom. 3:2426, etc.) Cornelius was a devout worshipper, whose prayer was heard, yet still needing to "hear words whereby thou shalt be saved." It would seem that God's perfect foreknowledge of Cornelius' gospel obedience would permit sending the Holy Spirit prior to (from the standpoint of human time) Peter's extending the Gospel invitation.

These several quotations surely reflect "official" doctrine since emanating from the head office, over the stamped signature of "Watchtower B. & T. Society of New York, Inc." Their denial of the true Scriptural design of baptism is clear, even when measured by the standard of their own private translation. We offer this as additional evidence of the sand upon which the Watchtower foundation is built.