Published in Faith and Facts (January 1988)

Review Of The Padfield – Watson Debate

John A. Welch

David Padfield, preacher for the Eastside church of Christ, met Frank Watson, supported by the Grace Bible church and presenting himself as a Baptist, in Evansville, Indiana, the first week in December 1987. There was only one night of a scheduled four nights of debate, because Mr. Watson withdrew after one night. David was affirming the necessity of baptism for salvation. Mr. Watson was supposed to affirm that salvation occurs at the point of faith.

David began the debate by introducing Mark 16:15-16 and Acts 2:38 in his first speech.

Mr. Watson responded with the usual Baptist quibble that one element of Mark 16:16 was necessary to salvation (belief) and the other was not (baptism). To enforce this argument he suggested an example, “He that boards the airplane and sits down will arrive in Los Angeles.” He argued that while it would be a little more comfortable to sit down, that one would arrive in Los Angeles without the absolute necessity of it. David’s response was that Mr. Watson’s true notion was that when one boarded the plane one was already in L.A. More seriously, he responded that if boarding the airplane and sitting down were the requirement of the airline, as well as the law of the land, one could easily be evicted from the plane and certainly was placing his trip in jeopardy to ignore the obvious statements of both airline and law. God’s law in this case seemed to make the requirements clear in Mark 16. Only a foolish man would jeopardize his soul’s salvation by pretending that he could ignore one of the requirements.

Mr. Watson also responded to Acts 2:38 with two usual Baptist arguments. Because of the number involved in the verbs, he argued that there are two distinct phrases involved here. The first is “Repent ye (plural) and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The second phrase is “Be baptized each one of you (singular) for the themission of sins.” This was necessary to achieve the first leg in his goal of separating repentance and baptism. His next step was to redefine “for” as “because of” or “with reference to,” thus arguing that baptism looks backward to a remission of sins that has ocurred prior to baptism.

David’s reponse on this subject was devastating. His material, especially on the supposed two phrases, is the best available on the subject. He has reproduced personal letters he had obtained from several notable authorities on the Greek. They are irrefutable. These include F. Wilbur Gingrich, Bruce M. Metzger, John R. Werner of the Wycliff Bible Society, and Arthur Farstad of Nelson Publishing. His material on “eis” (for). was equally convincing.

It was obvious in his second speech that Mr. Watson was laboring. He began to digress into other subjects and spent 10 minutes giving what he called his “personal testimony.”

Tuesday night Mr. Watson withdrew from the debate with a brief 10 minute statement. It was a shock to his moderator and all present.

The reasons he gave for such headlong retreat may be somewhat illuminating. He said that David was a professional debator and he was simply not in the same league with him. This is not true. This is only the second debate in David Padfield’s young life. He is a humble preacher of the gospel and prepares meticulously for these discussions. This is a poor excuse at best. Is he saying that he was poorly prepared? He had made every major argument I have ever heard a Baptist make. Is he saying that some wiser man could confound David’s reasoning? Again these are the arguments I have always heard in response. Are there new ones? We have heard this excuse many times over. When we talk with someone in their living room or on the street and they tell us that if only their preacher was there he could explain everything. It is an excuse for an inability to answer the arguments. It reveals a fundamental lack of faith in the Bible. The arguments will never be answered for they are truth, but yet these will not repent. They are still waiting for that proverbial wise man who can put into such gifted words that the argument will finally fall. That wonderful speaker never comes, yet they still never repent. They prefer to believe a lie.

His second excuse was that his mother had been converted on her death bed, and for him to accept the validity of this notion would be to pronounce that his mother was lost. How many times have we heard this excuse? It is a powerful motive in the actions of men. Jesus warned long ago that we must let the dead bury the dead, and that he had come to put a man at variance with his father and mother. What little real love for the Lord these people have when they will allow a greater love for their families to denounce obvious truth.

His third excuse was that he was angry and afraid that it would get beyond his control. He did not evidence any anger, and there was no reason for it, so we can only take him at his word. The Lord said to Paul long ago, that “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” Apparently, he too, had felt the frustration of something he could not answer and yet was not willing to accept. The rich young ruler went away sorrowful for he knew the truth, but would not accept it.

Here in this 10 minute excuse was much or more of the pitiful pagaentry of the real rejection of faith in the Lord and his word than could have been witnessed in many days of debate. This is really what crucified Jesus and persecuted Christians, just in greater intensity. The Jews could not deny the truth, but would not accept it.

David and the brethren were depressed, for they had looked forward to a better discussion. They should not have been. As many as 10 raw visitors attended Monday night of the debate. They were interested and the brethren obtained their addresses for follow-through. Some had come back Tuesday night and were amazed. Good can come from this. The brethren were confirmed in the simple power of their belief. Sometimes we sit in the isolation of our churches and begin to doubt, just a little, the validity of what we believe. None could doubt here.

For further study

remission of sinsDownload Charts from the Padfield-Phillips Debate. Over 120 overhead charts used by Padfield in this debate (PDF file size: 251k). You will need Acrobat Reader, available free from Adobe Systems, in order to view the charts.

"For The Remission Of Sins." A few years ago David Padfield wrote to several prominent Greek scholars and posed this question: "Is it grammatically possible that the phrase 'eis aphesin hamartion,' 'for the remission of sins,' as used in Acts 2:38, expresses the force of both verbs, 'repent ye and be baptized each one of you,' even though these verbs differ in both person and number?" This booklet contains photocopies of their responses and explains the phrase "for the remission of sins" in a very detailed manner (PDF File size: 640k).

audio of debate Listen to the audio of this debate (MP3 format)