By Pastor James L. Melton
The above verse of scripture is a favorite among many religious groups. One can hear it several times on Sunday morning radio programs, as well as from the pulpits of numerous groups, and it can be found in much religious literature. The verse is a favorite because, on the surface, it seemingly states that one must be baptized in order to be saved, and without baptism one is not saved. So, those who believe that water baptism is essential for salvation make it a regular habit of using Acts 2:38 as scriptural support.
The problem is that Acts 2:38 isn't the only verse in the Bible which deals with salvation. While many claim to "speak where the scriptures speak and remain silent where the scriptures are silent," they practically ignore most of the New Testament teaching on salvation. The only verses that such false teachers quote and reference are the ones they feel they can use to promote their "water gospel." The fact is that most of what the New Testament says about salvation doesn't include baptism at all! (John 5:24, John 11:25-26, John 14:6, Romans 4:5, Romans 10:9-13, Eph. 2:8-9, etc.), and the few places that do mention water baptism do not include it as part of one's salvation. Water baptism follows salvation as one of the first steps of obedience for the new believer.
In spite of this obvious truth, the cultists remain steadfast in their heresy, insisting that Acts 2:38 sets forth water baptism as a requirement for salvation. Thus, this verse of scripture has become Satan's favorite Bible verse. In fact, many are trusting water baptism alone for the salvation of their souls! Indeed, Satan has deceived multitudes by his perversion of Acts 2:38.
Rather than ignore Acts
2:38 by quoting "our favorite verses" instead, it is more appropriate to
face this popular verse of scripture and see if the cultists are right
in what they claim it teaches.
The Truth about Acts 2:38
First, please notice that verse 38 isn't the only verse in Acts 2. In Peter's message, a great deal was said before verse 38 came out of his mouth. In fact, he even told his listeners how to be saved before verse 38! In Acts 2:21, Peter quotes from Joel 2 and says, "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." His words preceding verse 38 were so convicting that his listeners were "pricked in their heart" in verse 37. So, to use verse 38 out of its context causes a misrepresentation of God's word. The verse does not stand alone, and, in fact, a totally different meaning is conveyed when one makes it stand alone.
Another error that many make with Acts 2:38 is the error of assumption. It is assumed that the word "for" must mean "in order to get." That is, being baptized "for" the remission of sins supposedly means to be baptized "in order to get" remission of sins. However, a closer look at the scriptures will reveal that this isn't the case at all.
Notice Luke 5:12-14: "And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them." Jesus made this man clean in verse 13, yet in the next verse, verse 14, Jesus tells him to go offer a sacrifice "for thy cleansing" as a "testimony." Here the word "for" cannot mean "in order to get" because he had already gotten his cleansing in verse 13! It obviously meant "because of" his cleansing. If a man goes to jail "for stealing," then he goes there "because of" the stealing that he's already done, not "in order to get" a chance to steal again.
Some like to argue that the Greek word "eis" means "in order to," but this isn't always the case. Jesus said in Matthew 12:41, "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at (eis) the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here." The Greek word for "at" is "eis." Does this mean that the men of Nineveh repented "in order to get" the preaching of Jonah? No, they repented "because of" the preaching of Jonah. So, even "the Greek" doesn't demand the popular interpretation of Acts 2:38. The word "for" can be used different ways, not just one, so it is wrong to assume that it must mean "in order to get" in Acts 2:38.
Another factor which is commonly ignored is the JEWISH factor. Every person in Acts 2 is a Mosaic law observing Old Testament Jew. In fact, they are all gathered together to observe a JEWISH FEAST called Pentecost (verse 1). A fair reading of the whole chapter (especially verses 4, 14, and 36) will clearly reveal that no Gentiles (non Jews) are present. Since this involves Jews, it involves a NATION (verse 36!!), not individuals. No one asked, "What must I do to be saved?" The question asked concerned the NATION of Israel: "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (verse 37) Not, "What shall I do," but rather, "What shall WE do?" Acts 2 presents a NATION of people who come to realize that they have murdered their blessed Messiah and they're asking what THEY must do. It's a question concerning NATIONAL salvation. Isaiah 66:8 says, ". . . shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." The "nation" is Israel! Romans 11:26 says, "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob." Acts 2:38 is dealing with NATIONAL salvation. The Messianic Kingdom is still available to the Jews (until Acts 7:60 when they kill Stephen), so national salvation remains an issue until then.
This is clear from what follows Acts 7. In Acts 8, an individual from Africa is saved (before baptism). In Acts 9, an individual from Asia is saved (before baptism). In Acts 10, an individual from Europe is saved (before baptism). Why didn't these individual conversions occur before Acts 7? Because the first seven chapter of Acts deal with Israel (1:6-8; 2:36; 3:12; 4:8-10; 5:31; 6:7-14; 7:1-60). The question of INDIVIDUAL salvation is asked and answered in Acts 16:30-31: ". . . Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Those who fail to make this distinction are guilty of violating II Timothy 2:15 where we are told to RIGHTLY DIVIDE the word of truth.
The Bible says the gospel is to go to the Jew FIRST (Rom. 1:16), so they are the FIRST to receive the gospel in the book of Acts (chapter 2), but they are not the last to receive it. Acts doesn't end with chapter 2, so we should be cautious of anyone who develops their doctrine in Acts 2 while practically ignoring the next 26 chapters! If God didn't stop in Acts 2, then why does anyone else? Could it be that the later chapters in Acts contain information which the cultists want hidden from us? Could it be that there are other scriptures in Acts which do not agree with the wording of Acts 2:38? Could it be that Peter himself, the one preaching in Acts 2:38, says something different when speaking to individual Gentiles like you and me? One only has to read Acts chapter 10 to get the answer. Peter is preaching again in Acts 10, except only to individual Gentiles, and something very interesting occurs. In Acts 2:38, the Holy Ghost was promised to be given to the converts AFTER they were baptized, yet in Acts 10:44 the Holy Ghost falls upon the Gentiles BEFORE they are baptized! Now, Paul tells us in Romans 8:9, " . . .if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Having God's Spirit is synonymous with belonging to God or being saved (John 3:6-8), so the Gentiles in Acts 10 were saved BEFORE they were baptized in water. Why don't the Acts 2:38 cultists ever point this out? Answer: It destroys their perverted doctrine that water baptism is essential for salvation.
The fact is that Acts 2:38 is NOT the "model" plan of salvation, nor are any of the other "water verses" which the cultists use. Only by taking such verses out of their context can one teach such heresy. All of the Bible is true, not just the favorite "proof texts" of the cults. Baptism saves no one. It only serves as a testimonial picture of the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ AFTER one has believed on Christ (Acts 8:36-38). Paul said in I Corinthians 1:17 that ". . . Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect." This "gospel" is defined by Paul in I Corinthians 15:1-4, and it does NOT include water baptism. The dying thief was not baptized, yet Jesus saved him (Luke 23:42-43), and John wrote that we are washed in the BLOOD of Christ (Rev. 1:5), not in the water. In fact, the saints in Heaven claim to have gotten there by the blood of Jesus (Rev. 5:9), not by water. By faith in the blood of Jesus Christ one is saved (Rom. 3:25). Water baptism only follows this faith as an outward step of obedience.
Friend, if you have fallen for the water gospel, why not repent of your sin and trust Jesus Christ alone? Acts 10:43 says, "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." Why not believe on Christ 100% right now and quit trusting something you DO for salvation? "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1) Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Romans 10:9-13 says, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Why not right now?
Copyright © 2000 James L. Melton
The Simplest Explanation of Acts 2:38 You'll Ever Hear
by David J. Stewart | October 2014
“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” (Acts 2:38).
This is one of the most confusing and debated Scriptures in the Bible, but it doesn't need to be. All of the confusion comes from searching man's commentaries instead of “search the Scriptures” as Jesus told us in John 5:39. Acts 2:38 does not teach that water baptism is required for salvation. The Bible is very clear that we are saved by believing that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose (1st Thessalonians 4:14).
John the Baptist plainly taught the people who came to him for baptism, that it was just water, but he said Jesus would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. John 1:26 and 33, John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not ... And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” This truth explains Acts 2:38 perfectly.
Repent means “to think differently.” Baptize (transliterated from Baptizo) means “to make whelmed, that is, fully wet, immersed.” It may or may not refer to water baptism when used, but clearly it doesn't in this passage. There is no English word for baptize, so the word was directly carried over from Greek to English, which is called transliteration. So a literal interpretation of Acts 3:38 would be, “Think differently and be immersed with the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ to be pardoned of your sins.” This is what Acts 2:38 means, just as John the Baptist foretold. It is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, not water.
Most people make the error of assuming that “be baptized” in Acts 2:38 must means water baptism, because that is the modern popular understanding. My friend, your pastor can baptize you with water, but that won't save you. You must be baptized with the Holy Ghost, which only Jesus Christ can do when you believe on Him as your Savior. Adding water baptism to partial faith in Christ is religion, not the gift of God. Throughout the New Testament we read that we are saved by believing on Christ. John 6:28-29, “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” If water baptism were necessary for salvation, then it would have been mentioned, but it's not.
NEVER lift any particular text out of a passage without considering the surrounding context, and the entire Bible for that matter, or else you'll wrongly interpret the Bible. Acts 2:38 can be interpreted several different ways; however, if we cross-reference Scripture-with-Scripture and let the Bible explain itself, then we have the truth, as I just showed you.
We know that Acts 2:38 cannot mean, “think differently and be immersed in water in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.” That would go against the Biblical teaching that salvation is without works. Water baptism is a work, just as circumcision is a work, for which the apostle Peter rebuked the false prophets in Acts 15:1 who were requiring it. Acts 15:1, “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” This heresy is in the same boat as water baptism, that is, it is human effort (works).
Again, a literal interpretation of Acts 3:38 would be, “Think differently and be immersed with the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ to be pardoned of your sins.”
by Calvary Community Church
Perhaps there is no verse in the New Testament so misinterpreted and misunderstood as Acts 2:38. Those who would add works to salvation that is by faith alone seem to use Acts 2:38 as their proof text, especially those who teach water baptism is necessary for salvation. They try to use Acts 2:38 to support their view.
What does Acts 2:38 really say? "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 (Acts 2:38)."
The word "repent" must be defined. Repent comes from the Greek word "metanoeo" which means a change of mind. The Greek word for repentance does not mean to turn from sin or sorrow for sin as is so often taught. Repentance in salvation means a change of mind from any idea of religion that man might have to accepting God's way of salvation. Nowhere does the Scripture use the phrase "repent of sin" to be saved. Scripture does say in Acts 20:21, "Repentance (change in mind) toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Saving faith includes the change of mind which is repentance.
In Acts 2:38, the repentance is a change of mind about "Who is Jesus?" Peter had concluded his message in Acts 2:36 by saying, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both the Lord and Christ." The point made was that the Jews had crucified Jesus because they thought he was a fraud, an impostor, and not the Savior that the Scriptures had promised. Peter is saying that the very same Jesus that they had crucified had proved by his resurrection that he is both Lord (Jehovah) and Christ (Messiah) in Acts 2:36.
When Peter asked for repentance, he was asking them to change their mind about Jesus and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh and the promised Savior of the Bible. It was afterwards that Peter said, "…be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."
The word "baptized" must be defined as "to wash, to cleanse, to fully whelm," coming from the Greek word baptizo. The word baptize does not always mean with water. In fact, often it is used when there is no water involved at all. There are at least ten different baptisms taught to us in the New Testament and many involve no water.
1. Baptism of John the Baptist Matthew 3:11
2. Baptism of Fire Matthew 3:11
3. Baptism of Death Matthew 20:22
4. Diverse Baptisms of the Old Testament Hebrews 9:10
5. Baptism of Believers Acts 8:36-39
6. Baptism of the Holy Spirit Matthew 3:11
7. Baptism of Jesus Christ Matthew 3:15-17
8. Baptism of Moses I Corinthians 10:2
9. Baptism of Pots and Pans Mark 7:4
10. Baptism in the Name Acts 2:38
The context of a passage alone will sometimes determine whether it is water or not.
Most people immediately think of water when they think of a baptism, and that is a mistake, as can be seen by studying the above list of baptisms. We should be careful not to jump to the conclusion that we are talking about water in Acts 2:38.
Note carefully that the verse reads, "...and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ." Could not this verse read, "…and be baptized (washed, cleansed, fully whelmed) every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ." Isn't there cleansing power in the name of Jesus Christ? The answer is yes! Note I Corinthians 6:11 where we read, "And such were some of you: but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
In other words, could we not say, "Repent (change your mind about who Jesus Christ is), and be baptized (washed, fully whelmed) every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost?" I believe we can read the verse this way and that this is the correct interpretation.
The best way to interpret Scripture is to compare Scripture with Scripture. Can we do this with Acts 2:38? Yes, we can! Note Acts 10:43-48 where we have a passage that matches Acts 2:38. Comparing both passages phrase for phrase, you will conclude both offer salvation by faith only.
Notice that the result of salvation in both passages is the remission of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The two conditions of salvation are also the same in both passages. First, both Acts 2:38 and Acts 10:43 demand a change of mind about who is Jesus Christ. Acts 10:43 says He is one to whom all the prophets gave witness. What Peter says demonstrates the same truth in Acts chapter 2 by quoting the prophets Joel and David to prove his point. Secondly, Acts 10:43 has "…through His name whosoever believeth in Him" as a condition of salvation. This is equivalent to the condition of Acts 2:38 to "be baptized (washed) in the name of Jesus Christ." So we find the phrase "Be baptized (washed) in His name," means the same as "through His name believe in Him."
Also, please notice that Acts 2:38 tells us the Holy Spirit is received as the gift of God. If we had to do anything of ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit, it would not be a gift. Remember Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."
To insist upon a repentance that in any sense includes a change of conduct either toward God or man is to add an element of human effort to faith. This would contradict all clear Scripture on this matter such as Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; and others.
To insist upon water baptism in Acts 2:38 would make the remission of sins and the receiving of the gift of the Holy Spirit dependent upon the human work of water baptism. This would be inconsistent with Acts 10:43-44, where the remission of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit are received as the result of faith only. The Bible would contradict itself and we would be left confused.
Have you recognized Jesus Christ as the Savior which died for your sins, was buried and was raised from the dead? Have you been washed of your sins in His name? (See I Corinthians 6:11). If not, then trust Jesus Christ as your Savior today and receive the remission of your sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
SOURCE: ACTS 2:38
The Sin of Getting Baptized “Just in Case” to Go to Heaven
The following article was taken from the Friday, March 21st, 2003 Chicago Sun-times newspaper. This is so sad. U.S. military troops were lining up over in Iraq to be water baptized, thinking that they'd be safe “JUST IN CASE” they are killed on the battlefield. The horrible truth is that baptism cannot make you safe. If you get baptized “JUST IN CASE,” then you are NOT saved because you are relying on something in ADDITION to Jesus Christ alone. If you ADD anything to simple childlike faith, you will go to Hell in your sins. DO NOT rely upon water baptism in the least as added insurance for Heaven. You trust Jesus, the Christ, and HIM ALONE!!!
Infant Baptism is Wrong
The Doctrine of Baptism (by Dr. Martin R. DeHann, 1891-1965)
"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect."
—The Apostle Paul, 1st Corinthians 1:17
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