Does Mark 16:16 teach that water baptism is a requirement of salvation?
Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16), but does this verse say or teach that unless you are baptized, you cannot be saved? First of all, what does the word baptism mean? Obviously it refers to water baptism, and most take that as submersion or being baptized into and under the water, but an important factor is how the Greeks used this word in their everyday language. The Greeks used the word “baptize” as a way to identify something. For example, if they submerged (Greek, “baptizmō”) a cloth in purple dye, the fabric was then identified with the color purple. It was never identified with the water but the color of the dye. That’s how it’s now identified with…purple, not water.
Baptized into Christ
Ancient Israel was identified with Moses, particularly after the Exodus and up to the time they crossed over into the Promised Land. The Apostle Paul asked a rhetorical question, saying, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (Rom 6:3)? Being lowered into and under the water symbolizes the death of the old man and the coming up out of the water, being raised to new life in Christ…becoming a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). That’s basically what Paul says in writing, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3). We were never identified with the water after our baptism but identified with Christ, so it’s not the water that saves us but our identity in Christ. That’s why the Father accepts us…we’re in Christ and He cannot see our sins anymore. Not through the blood of the Lamb of God.
Identified With God
The Apostle Paul referred to ancient Israel and their identification with Moses, writing that “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea” (1 Cor 10:1), and in doing so, “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:2). That means, they were baptized or identified with Moses. There were never identified with the Red Sea or the water in it, but with Moses. When Jesus gave the disciples the Great Commission, He included the command that they should be baptizing the new disciples. Of course that meant water baptism, but that’s a minor point compared to what Jesus said, saying “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in [the Greek is “into”] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). They are not baptized into or identified with the water. Water by itself has no redemptive value, so believers are not ever identified with water but rather, they are baptized or identified with the Father, the Son of God and the Holy Spirit.
The Bible shows that Jesus Himself was baptized, even though He didn’t need to be. He did this so that He could fulfill all righteousness in every way, but Jesus didn’t need to repent and be baptized. He had no sin to repent of so that’s not why He was baptized. John the Baptist resisted baptizing Jesus because He knew Jesus didn’t need to repent and be baptized, but rather, John thought Jesus should baptize him, but Jesus told him to do so anyway (Matt 3:13-17). Can we really think that Jesus’ baptism sealed His position as the Messiah or the Son of God? No! He already was God of very God, so baptism didn’t change Jesus. He is God and He changes not (Mal 3:6; Heb 13:8). What Jesus did was to give us an example and to fulfill all righteousness (as He said). Jesus was sinless at the time and has always been sinless since He is God, so we can’t think it’s a requirement to be saved or that if we fail to be baptized we are not saved. Of course we should be baptized, but not in order to be sealed by God. Jesus does say, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16a), but Jesus did not say that whoever believes is baptized in order to be saved. It’s so easy to take this one verse and rip it out of its context, and then build a doctrine around it…maybe even a church, but taking text out of the proper context can lead to error. We can take one verse out of context and create a pretext, and a false one at that, and many have with Mark 16:16.
We cannot claim our baptism date as proof of our salvation. Pharaoh’s army was baptized in the Red Sea, but they were not saved, so it is not Jesus + Baptism = Salvation. A person is not baptized in order to be saved but because they are saved…they obey the command to be baptized, but a command obeyed doesn’t grant eternal life. That only comes through Jesus Christ (John 6:44; Acts 4:12; Eph 2:8-9). Many rightly mention that the thief of the cross was saved and wasn’t baptized, but that this was before Jesus’ death and was a different dispensation or something like that. I cannot agree with that. Baptism doesn’t save…Jesus alone saves, but the saved obey and are baptized. They believe and are baptized, but not baptized in order to be believe…it’s in order to be obedient.
Here is some related reading for you: Does Baptism Save You? A Biblical Analysis 
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.