Isn’t the Bible filled with verses which teach that people are saved without baptism (e.g. John 1:12-13; 3:15-18, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40; 8:24; 11:25; et al.)?
The Bible is filled with verses which emphasize the necessity of faith in the salvation process, but none of these excludes baptism. There are just as many verses in the Bible which underscore the necessity of obedience (e.g. John 3:21; 7:17; 8:12, 51; 14:15, 21-24; 15:10, 14; et al.), including baptism (John 3:5; Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Peter 3:21; et al.). Salvation is not a matter of either faith or obedience, but is rather the result of both faith and obedience, i.e. obedient faith. ALL of the biblical information must be considered and harmonized before final conclusions are reached about God’s will.
Mark 16:16 says that ‘he who does not believe will be condemned,’ but it doesn’t say that a person who isn’t baptized will be condemned, so how can baptism be so important?
In this verse Jesus gives a formula for salvation and a formula for condemnation. The salvation formula contains two prerequisites: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” To remove baptism is to eliminate one of the Lord’s conditions. The condemnation formula is: “he who does not believe.” This one condition is sufficient to be condemned, because a person who does not believe the gospel is not going to be baptized or do anything else the Lord requires. To illustrate, consider the following statement: “He who eats food and digests it will live; but he who does not eat food will die.” The condition of food digestion is irrelevant if the condition of food consumption is not met, but if food is eaten, then it must be digested in order for a person to live. The condition of baptism is irrelevant if the condition of belief is not met, but according to Jesus’ statement, if one believes the gospel, baptism must necessarily follow in order to be saved. On the textual validity of Mark 16:15-16, see Ending of Mark Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
When the Philippian jailer asked what he needed to do to be saved, he was simply told, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household’ (Acts 16:30-31). Why was baptism not included in this statement?
Although there is only one system of faith (cf. Ephesians 4:4-6), different people are told to do different things depending on where they are in the salvation process. Bear in mind that the jailer at Philippi was a pagan who did not believe in Jesus and in all probability had never even heard of Jesus. Without the initial step of simple faith he could not go any further in the process of salvation. Thus Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (v. 32). After this family had heard the gospel and obviously believed, what was the next step they needed to take? Having exhibited repentance by washing the wounds of his ex-prisoners, “immediately [the jailer] and all his family were baptized” (v. 33). It was not necessary for Paul and Silas to give more information in v. 31 until this man and his family had heard and believed the gospel.
In Acts 2:37-38, when the Jews had asked the apostles the same question, they were given a different answer -- not because there was a different pattern for them to follow but because they had already heard about and believed in Jesus. In other words, they were further along in the salvation process than the Philippian jailer initially was, and so they were told to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. In the end, they all followed the same pattern: hearing, believing, repentance, and baptism. To be saved, what must unbelievers do? They must hear the gospel and believe (Acts 16:31). Once they become believers, what must they do? They must repent (Acts 2:38; 3:19). Once they are penitent believers, what must they do? They must be baptized (Acts 2:38; 8:12; 22:16). And once they are penitent baptized believers, what must they do? They must continue in the faith (Acts 2:42; 14:22).
It is interesting to note that in Acts 2:44 the disciples are simply described as “all who believed” [lit. 'all the believing ones'], even though they had just been baptized (v. 41). The Philippian jailer is merely described as one “having believed in God with all his household” (Acts 16:34), even though he and his household had just been baptized (v. 33). Obviously it is not necessary for the word “baptism” to be mentioned in every verse that talks about salvation since the Bible clearly includes it in the process.