Thursday, August 06, 2020

Justification Apart From Baptism: Not Just The Thief On The Cross

I recently had an email exchange with somebody asking me for Biblical examples of justification apart from baptism. He had cited the thief on the cross in a discussion with somebody, and that person responded by dismissing the thief as an exception to the rule. So, he was interested in other Biblical passages to bring up.

Here's my response:

Here are some passages illustrating justification prior to or without baptism, aside from the thief on the cross:

Mark 2:5
Mark 5:34
Mark 10:52
Luke 7:50
Luke 17:19
Luke 18:10-14
Luke 19:9
Acts 10:44-48
Acts 19:2
Galatians 3:2
Ephesians 1:13-14

I can provide an explanation of why I've included each of those passages, if you need me to explain any of them.

Some of them can be shown to be in normative contexts, so they can't be dismissed as exceptions to a rule (e.g., what happened in Acts 10 is referred to as if it's normative in 11:17-18 and 15:7-11). The cumulative effect of the passages also suggests that what they're illustrating is normative. Why would so many people across so many contexts be justified in the same allegedly non-normative way while nobody is portrayed as being justified in the way that supposedly is normative? Nobody is referred to as not being justified until after baptism.

Galatians 3 probably is the best passage you can cite (the whole chapter, though the verse I've highlighted is central). The chapter provides a good combination of didactic material and historical illustrations. The Galatians and Abraham are referred to as being justified in contexts that can't involve baptism (the Galatians while hearing the gospel being proclaimed rather than during a baptismal ceremony; Abraham before baptism existed). And the didactic portions of the chapter exclude all systems of work as a means of justification, not just the Mosaic law or some other aspect of Judaism, as the references to "a law" and "a tutor" in verses 21-25 show. Furthermore, Galatians was written well after the time of Jesus' resurrection, so what the passage says can't be dismissed as only addressing an earlier timeframe before justification through baptism went into effect. People sometimes claim that the requirement for baptism didn't go into effect until after passages like the ones cited above in the gospels, such as after the resurrection. The evidence is against that claim, and it isn't even relevant to a passage like Galatians 3.

The passages discussed above aren't exhaustive. They're just examples. I've written more about passages like these elsewhere, such as here, here, and here. You can search the archives for many other relevant threads. The second and third ones just linked include discussions of an important passage in Josephus. For more about the patristic evidence, see here and here.


  1. Jason, I know this post is older, but if you find some spare time this was a question I found in regards to the utilization of Acts 10 that I'd like to get your thoughts on:

    If folks want to use Acts 10:44-48 as proof salvation takes place prior to baptism, on grounds the Holy Spirit is received prior to baptism, they will have to say baptism is unto salvation in Acts 8:15-17 and 19:5-6 since baptism, received by faith, takes place prior to and unto receiving the Holy Spirit in those texts.

    1. The issue in all of these passages, and elsewhere, is what's normative. You can search the archives for many discussions of chapters 10 and 19 in Acts and how they serve as evidence for the normativity of justification through faith alone. See here on Acts 19, for example. What happens in chapter 8 isn't normative.