37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
Acts 2:37-41 (NKJV)
Acts 2:38 is one of the major proof-texts that those who believe water baptism is necessary for salvation use to support their belief. I disagree with this assessment for three reasons:
- There are far too many other passages in the Bible that contradict the notion of water baptism as a requirement for salvation. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” According to this verse, eternal life is based on belief in Jesus Christ – and nothing else. Romans 10:9-10 says “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Again, there is no mention of baptism in these verses, nor anywhere else in the chapter. In several other passages in the book of Acts, baptism is mentioned in conjunction with salvation; however, in every one of these passages, baptism always happens immediately after the person has been saved.
- There are also many other passages that contradict the notion that water baptism is the means for having sin removed. 1 John 2:1-2 says, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” Hebrews 9:22 states, “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” It is the blood of Jesus Christ that removes sin, not water baptism.
- A careful examination of the text of Acts 2:38 has convinced me that Peter is not talking about physical water baptism, but rather the immersion of the believer in Christ. The Greek word βαπτισθήτω means “dip, submerge, baptize.” When examining the context of Biblical passages concerning baptism, it is important to understand A) who or what is being immersed, and, B) what they are being immersed in? In the case of Acts 2:38, the answer to “who or what is being immersed?” would be the Jews who heard Peter’s sermon, and believed. The answer to the second question, “what they are being immersed in?” would be, “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Peter is telling his audience that in order to be saved, they must be immersed in Jesus Christ; His blood then covers their sin; and then they will receive the Holy Spirit. Peter does not say, “be baptized in water for the remission of sins;” he says, “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” When a person receives Jesus Christ as their Savior, they are put into Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. Water baptism is done afterward, as an outward sign of the spiritual transformation that has already taken place (Acts 2:41). In Acts 2:38, the instruction is to be immersed into Jesus’ name, not into a pool of water.
Salvation is based on confessing sin before God, repentance, and placing one’s faith and trust in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ alone for the remission of sin. No ritual or work – including water baptism – can add to or take away from one’s salvation.