Baptism in Context

All Scripture References are taken from the NASB

“Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38.

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” KJV

“πετρος δε προς αυτους μετανοησατε και βαπτισθητω εκαστος υμων εν τω ονοματι ιησου χριστου εις αφεσιν των αμαρτιων υμων και λημψεσθε την δωρεαν του αγιου πνευματος” 1881 Westcott-Hort NT

“πετρος δε εφη προς αυτους μετανοησατε και βαπτισθητω εκαστος υμων επι τω ονοματι ιησου χριστου εις αφεσιν αμαρτιων και ληψεσθε την δωρεαν του αγιου πνευματος” 1550 Stephanus NT

Acts 2:38 is one of the more controversial statements to be found in the Bible in reference to baptism and salvation.  Some use this verse to say that baptism is necessary for salvation.  But observing  the verse and others in context the obvious conclusion is that baptismal regeneration simply is not possible.

The weakest form of biblical study used to conclude that Acts 2:38 which speaks of baptismal regeneration is ‘Proof Texting.’ In other words, particular verses are taken from various places to support a proposed doctrinal statement.  Unfortunately, utilizing this method of study removes all contextual evidence.

It is absolutely necessary to carefully observe what God’s Word says contextually in order to accurately understand what it teaches.  The Bible says many things about many subjects, but the question that must always be asked is, “What is being taught here?”

The meaning of the word, in Greek “εις” and in English “for” from the NAS and KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon:

into, unto, to, towards, for, among”For” (as used in Acts 2:38 “for the forgiveness…”) could have two meanings. If you saw a poster saying “Jesse James wanted for robbery”, “for” could mean Jesse is wanted so he can commit a robbery, or is wanted because he has committed a robbery. The later sense is the correct one. So too in this passage, the word “for” signifies an action in the past. Otherwise, it would violate the entire tenor of the NT teaching on salvation by grace and not by works.”

The following discussion concerning the Greek grammar and syntax is from A.T. Robertson, “Word Pictures of the New Testament” Acts 2:38.

 “Repent ye (μετανοησατε). First aorist (ingressive) active imperative. Change your mind and your life. Turn right about and do it now. You crucified this Jesus. Now crown him in your hearts as Lord and Christ. This first. And be baptized every one of you (και βαπτισθητω εκαστος υμων). Rather, “And let each one of you be baptized.” Change of number from plural to singular and of person from second to third. This change marks a break in the thought here that the English translation does not preserve. The first thing to do is make a radical and complete change of heart and life. Then let each one be baptized after this change has taken place, and the act of baptism be performed “in the name of Jesus Christ” (εν τω ονοματι ιησου χριστου). In accordance with the command of Jesus in Matthew 28:19 (ει τω ονομα). No distinction is to be insisted on between ει τω ονομα and εν τω ονοματι with βαπτιzω since ει and εν are really the same word in origin. In Acts 10:48  εν τω ονοματι ιησου χριστου occurs, but ει to ονομα in Acts 8:16 Acts 19:5 . The use of ονομα means in the name or with the authority of one as εν ονομα προφητουMatthew 10:41 ) as a prophet, in the name of a prophet. In the Acts the full name of the Trinity does not occur in baptism as in Matthew 28:19 , but this does not show that it was not used. The name of Jesus Christ is the distinctive one in Christian baptism and really involves the Father and the Spirit. See on “Mt 28:19” for discussion of this point. “Luke does not give the form of words used in baptism by the Apostles, but merely states the fact that they baptized those who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah or as Lord” (Page).Unto the remission of your sins (ει αφεσιν των αμαρτιων υμων). This phrase is the subject of endless controversy as men look at it from the standpoint of sacramental or of evangelical theology. In themselves the words can express aim or purpose for that use of ει does exist as in 1 Corinthians 2:7 εν δοξαν ημων (for our glory). But then another usage exists which is just as good Greek as the use of ει for aim or purpose. It is seen in Matthew 10:41 in three examples εν ονομα προφητου, δικαιου, maqhtou where it cannot be purpose or aim, but rather the basis or ground, on the basis of the name of prophet, righteous man, disciple, because one is, etc. It is seen again in Matthew 12:41 about the preaching of Jonah (ει το κηρυγμα ιωνα). They repented because of (or at) the preaching of Jonah. The illustrations of both usages are numerous in the N.T. and the Koin generally (Robertson, Grammar, p. 592). One will decide the use here according as he believes that baptism is essential to the remission of sins or not. My view is decidedly against the idea that Peter, Paul, or any one in the New Testament taught baptism as essential to the remission of sins or the means of securing such remission. So I understand Peter to be urging baptism on each of them who had already turned (repented) and for it to be done in the name of Jesus Christ on the basis of the forgiveness of sins which they had already received.”

I would strongly suggest that every student of God’s Word study in context, parallel texts. However, being objective outside of one’s particular theological prejudice is very difficult because each interpreter of God’s Word is prejudiced by denomination, personal history and theological studies.

An objective and contextual study of forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus Christ is consistent in Acts:

2:38, “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

3:19, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;”

5:31, “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”

10:43, “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”

13:38-39, “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.

Contextually, the body of Scripture indicates that repentance and faith are required for salvation and baptism is done ‘because of’ personal repentance of sin and not ‘for’ repentance.  Baptism is identification with the Christ for those who have repented and recognized His forgiveness. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:2, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;” just as Believers are baptized into Jesus as His Followers.

We find that God’s Word is not teaching that baptism is for the purpose of salvation, but rather because God’s grace is applied in salvation.  Baptism is that which is accomplished in order to identify the new Believer with Christ because of God has done within us by His grace.

That is why it is said of Christians that we have died to sin and as a result are baptized into Christ and death:

Romans 6:1-11, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in so that grace may increase?May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of  us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  We have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of Hi resurrecdtion, knowing that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin migh be done away with, so  that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died id freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

A statement concerning the manner in which Paul is using baptism is necessary. I would suggest that Paul is here speaking of a spiritual baptism and not water baptism because the use of water is not indicated. The Greek word ‘baptizo’ means many things and among them are the following, “to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one’s self, bathe and to overwhelm. The Greek word has been transliterated into English are reads ‘baptism’.

With that said, Paul is not referring to water baptism at all, but rather, ‘to immerse’ into Jesus Christ and not water. The two are entirely different and in this statement, contradictory at the same time. Believers or Followers of the Christ are not baptized by water for salvation, but are rather immersed into the Christ because of justification or death to sin. This, in fact, is Paul discusses throughout Romans chapter 6. Therefore, to force water baptism into the dialogue will not work.

“The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickle sand is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be ‘dipped ‘(bapto) into boiling water and then ‘baptised’ (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change. When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. e.g. Mark 16:16. ‘He that believes and is baptised shall be saved’. Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real change, like the vegetable to the pickle! Bible Study Magazine, James Montgomery Boice, May 1989.”  The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon “baptizo”

The Bible does not teach that man is justified by grace and baptism or by faith and baptism. Baptism is not included the gospel message in reference to salvation. In fact Paul writes the following:

Romans 1:15b-16,  ” I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

After Romans we are able to move into Paul’s discussion of water baptism in Corinthians and it is clear that water is the issue and not spiritual baptism about which he writes in Romans 6. The Apostle mentions the fact that he baptize in the Name of the Christ, but we must also point to his statement that he was sent by the Christ to preach the Gospel and not to baptize. If baptism is the prescription for salvation, Paul would certainly have made that the subject of his discussion here, but he does not do so. He writes, “I do not know whether I baptized any other.”  Just a thought.

1 Corinthians 1″14-17,  “I thank God that I baptized none of      you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.”

Paul goes further in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4,  “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Because Paul does not include baptism in the definition of the gospel, the question must then be asked, “Is baptism necessary for salvation and if so, why does Paul say ‘I do not remember who I have baptized’ and not express this as a requirement for salvation?”  It is because baptism is not necessary for salvation.

Luke writes that while Peter was preaching the gospel, people were saved and were baptized, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?”  And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.” Acts 19:44-48.   .

These people were saved and praised God in a manner that  unbelievers are unable to because praising God is the outward expression of what God has done for and to the inner man; this is foreign to one who does not know Him. Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 2:12-14,  “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

The Jewish audience Peter was addressing most likely was familiar with physical and spiritual baptism. Luke connects Peter’s statement in Acts 2:38 and the related events in chapters 10 and 11.In 11:15-16 he writes about the conversion of Cornelius and his friends as they were already saved and baptized by the Holy Spirit, “”And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” Following in 10:47, “’Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?’ And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.” Obviously, if one has had a personal experience of salvation and have been baptized by the Holy Spirit a public demonstration of water baptism should certainly follow as the Bible clearly teaches.

In Acts 2:38 Luke connects repentance and baptism because it is contextually revealed that one must not be baptized in order to be saved.  God’s Words clearly expresses that baptism demonstrates Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.  It is not the baptism into Christ that saves us but the reality of His sacrifice which is recognized by faith Romans 6:3-5, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,”

Galatians 3:8, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Luke writes about a large group of folks in Acts 10:44-48 who are saved before they are baptized. Baptism is not what saves but rather what a born again Follower of Jesus Christ does who is already saved.

Jesus is Lord. BW.

About Bob Williford

Conservative Southern Baptist pastor, missionary, and personal evangelist. An avid supporter of Texas Tech Athletics. Enjoy oil painting, writing and woodworking. My wife, children, and grandchildren are my joy. Reading and writing are great for relaxing......
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