Mark 16:16

by Owen D. Olbricht

When I was in Northfield, NJ in the eighties, a former teacher of a Northeastern US seminary visited our Wednesday evening Bible class. We happened to enter a discussion of Mark 16:16. He affirmed that a person was saved when he believed, and then was baptized afterward as a physical expression of an inner grace, and that failure to believe and not failure to be baptized, would bring about condemnation.

Believe and be Baptized

The visitor’s argument may stand in English but not in Greek for *two* reasons. His statement that “believe” saves and “be baptized” follows salvation contradicts the action of aorist participle verbs that express completed action before the action of the main verb, “shall be saved.” When I shared this with him (He had taught Greek and knew that what I said was true), he replied that Mark 16:16 is not in the most ancient Greek manuscripts.

Greek Usage

The *first* argument the teacher gave is not true because it does not respect Greek usage of the aorist participle. Greek grammars are consistent in their agreement concerning the action of aorist participles like “believe and be baptized,” which are in Mark 16:16.

In his grammar Moule wrote, “. . . an Aorist Participle refers to action previous to the major verb.”1 Earlier he exposed two alleged N. T. cases, which some use, by showing that they do not contradict this principle. He then wrote, “Are there other exceptions in the N.T.? I know of none.”2

Moulton agreed that the action of the aorist participle is subsequent action before the action of the main verb, and that an exception “has not yet been paralleled either in the N.T. or outside.”3

The renowned A. T. Robertson in his voluminous grammar wrote, “no satisfactory examples [other than subsequent action preceding the major verb] have been adduced.”4

The translation in the NASB agrees with the grammars by translating the Mark 16:16, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved.” This translation shows that he who “has believed and has been baptized” takes place before “shall be saved.” Two actions are required before “shall be saved,” while the one action of “he who has disbelieved” shall bring condemnation (Mark 16:16).

The *second* reason that both “believe and be baptized” are required before a person “shall be saved” is that only one article (*tis *the) appears before both of them. The one article means that the actions of both “believed and be baptized” are co-joined. Bratcher and Nida wrote, “. . . the single definite article governing both participles join the two verbs together in describing the man who will be saved; the clause could be translated “the baptized believer”5 [shall be saved].

In Mark 16;16 Jesus clearly taught that both “believe and be baptized” must precede “shall be saved.”


1 C. E. D, Moule, *An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, *2d. ed., Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1953), 99.
2 Ibid. 100.
3 James H. Moulton, *A Grammar of New Testament Greek *(Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1906), 133.
4 A. T. Bobertson, *A Grammar of th**e Greek New Testament Greek *(Nashville, Broadman Press, 1923), 861.
5 Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida, *A Translators Handbook on the Book of Mark.* (New York United Bible Societies, 1961). 311.

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