Water Or Holy Spirit Baptism?

       One of the most difficult parts of the Holy Bible for me to interpret, and no doubt for many others, has been Acts 2:38 (see below) and other Scripture passages in the book of Acts. The word “baptize” (transliterated from Baptizo) means “to make whelmed, that is, fully wet, immersed.” It may or may not refer to water baptism when used. Since the word baptism can refer to different things, we must take each Scripture verse on an individual basis, comparing Scripture-with-Scripture.

I'm going to share with you my opinion on this important matter, but I would not be dogmatic, because I know great fundamental Baptist preachers who believe different interpretations. For example: Dr. John R. Rice (see appendix) believes that Acts 2:38 refers to water baptism, but Dr. Ray Stanford believes that it refers to the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Obviously, they both cannot be correct. Interestingly, if you read the exegesis by both men, they both conclude that water baptism is NOT necessary for salvation, which is 100% true. I will fight that doctrinal battle all the way to the end, because we know from searching the Scriptures, taking into account the whole counsel of God, that salvation is by faith alone in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, plus or minus nothing.

The only way to properly “rightly divide” the Word of truth as 2nd Timothy 2:15 teaches is by Deductive Reasoning, that is, looking at what we do know (the facts) and fitting the puzzle pieces together to form our conclusions of what we don't know. To begin, here is a list of every Bible verse (23 times) in the book of Acts that mentions the word “baptize” or “baptized”...

  1. Acts 1:5, “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”
  2. Acts 1:22, “Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.”
  3. 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.”
  4. Acts 2:41, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”
  5. Acts 8:12, “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”
  6. Acts 8:13, “Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.”
  7. Acts 8:16, “(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)”
  8. Acts 8:36, “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”
  9. Acts 8:38, “And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.”
  10. Acts 9:18, “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.”
  11. Acts 10:37, “That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;”
  12. Acts 10:47, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
  13. Acts 10:48, “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.”
  14. Acts 11:16, “Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.”
  15. Acts 13:24, “When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.”
  16. Acts 16:15, “And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.”
  17. Acts 16:33, “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.”
  18. Acts 18:8, “And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.”
  19. Acts 18:25, “This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.”
  20. Acts 19:3, “And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism.”
  21. Acts 19:4, “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
  22. Acts 19:5, “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
  23. Acts 22:16, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”

I poured my heart into researching this subject, because I had read conflicting opinions from various preachers. I realized one day that I had written two separate articles, one teaching that baptism in Acts 2:38 means Holy Spirit baptism and another article teaching that baptism in Acts 2:41 means water baptism. I examined both articles and became confused, wondering what in the world was the truth. So I decided to examine every mention of baptism in the book of Acts, to try and determine whether the apostle Luke (the inspired writer) is referring to water baptism or Holy Ghost baptism.

I'd like to make some important observations...

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.”

Acts 2:41, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”

Does Acts 2:41 Refer to Water Baptism?

by David J. Stewart

       I tremendously respect Dr. Stanford as a Bible scholar. I respect other's right to disagree with me. I oftentimes promote the beliefs of great men of God, even though I may not agree 100% with them, because I want to present the opinions of fundamental preachers and LET YOU, my web visitors, form your own conclusions based upon the evidence. Albeit, I'd like to give you my opinion as well.

By the way, I do believe that Acts 2:38 refers to Holy Spirit baptism. Notice that the Bible speaks of the “PROMISE” (Joel 2:28-29) of receiving the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:39, “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Water baptism cannot fulfil this prophecy. Water baptism is merely symbolic, but the baptism of the Holy Spirit is transforming. I think this clearly indicates that Acts 2:38 refers to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at salvation. Yet, three verses later I think the Bible is referring to water baptism, for those who gladly received the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they were added to the Church.

In the following section below, Dr. Stanford teaches that Acts 2:41 doesn't refer to water baptism. He contends that it would be very difficult to baptize 3,000 people with water, since there was no water near the temple. I found some other Bible commentators[1] who agree with him. However, I firmly am convinced that the Bible is referring to water baptism here for several reasons:

  1. Water baptism AFTER salvation is the standard practice of the New Testament Church, so it wouldn't make sense if they didn't immediately water baptize these 3,000 new converts.
  2. Water baptism was never delayed. Thus, it is very likely that this was indeed water baptism.
  3. Acts 8:36 confirms that water baptism followed salvation. We read in acts 8:12-13 and 36, “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. ... And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” It would seem contradictory to me that Acts 8:36 referred clearly to water baptism, while other passages mentioning baptism in the book of Acts does not.
  4. John the Baptist said that only Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (salvation). When the apostles and the disciples baptized, it was always with water. Evidence of this truth is taught in Acts 10:47, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?”
  5. In first century Jerusalem, they had a local water source. The monumental Pool of Siloam provided Jerusalem with a permanent supply of fresh water. It was fed by waters of the Gihon Spring diverted through Hezekiah's Tunnel, built in the 8th century BC.[2]

The Water Supply

The fact is there were many pools in Jerusalem, some significantly large. J.W. McGarvey carefully investigated this matter in 1879. Consider the following:

1.The Virgin’s pool was about 132 feet square and some 3 feet deep.
2.The pool of Siloam occupied approximately 800 square feet and was more than three feet deep.
3.Lower Gihon covers more than 3 acres and can be as much as 40 feet deep.
4.Upper Gihon is about one and a half acres and can hold a depth of some 20 feet of water.
5.In addition, McGarvey surveyed several other sizable pools. He also noted that most houses had cisterns that collected water in the rainy season (Lands of the Bible, Philadelphia: Lippencott, 1881, p. 201).

The “sprinkling-Jerusalem” argument, therefore, does not hold water! For further information, see the book, “Biblical Studies in the Light of Archaeology”, pp. 54-56.

  1. Water baptism is part of The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 (although not necessary for salvation). If the 3,000 converts weren't water baptized in Acts 2:41, then WHEN did they get water baptized? The apostles would have fulfilled The Great Commission received from our Lord, to immediately water baptize new converts.

I love how Dr. Stanford approaches the Bible, that is, he starts with what WE DO KNOW, and goes from there. We DO KNOW that eternal life is a free gift from God (Romans 5:15; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-10). We DO KNOW that only Christ's precious blood can wash away a person's sins (1st John 1:7; Revelation 1:5; 1st Peter 1:18-19). Hence, when we examine the various Scriptures which mention baptism, we always KNOW that water baptism is not necessary for salvation (which would be human effort, works). The Bible NEVER contradicts itself. There are umpteen available books explaining and reconciling ALLEGED discrepancies in the Bible, and I highly recommend these books if you are a skeptic concerning the Word of God. The Bible requires a lifetime of study to master (2nd Timothy 2:15).

Regardless of whether the Bible is referring to water baptism or Holy Spirit baptism, we KNOW that water baptism is not required for salvation, for several reasons:

  1. No one in the Old Testament was water baptized. Acts 10:43 says they were saved the same we in the Old Testament as we are today, by faith in the Messiah for the remission of sins.
  2. The thief on the cross was never water baptized.
  3. In the Epistle of 1st John, baptism is not mentioned, yet the purpose of the book according to 1st John 5:13 is so that believers may KNOW that we are saved. Certainly if water baptism were necessary for salvation, then God would have told us to make sure that we've been dunked.
  4. The words “believe” and “believed” are mentioned 85 times in the Gospel of John. Although the word “baptism” is mentioned 11 times, it never is mentioned with believing. Again, if water baptism were so important, then God would have stressed its importance, but He never does.
  5. The apostle Paul said in 1st Corinthians 1:17 that Christ sent him not to baptize with water, but to preach the Gospel. If water baptism were necessary for salvation, then Paul would have baptized everyone.
  6. John 4:2 says that Jesus did not water baptize.
  7. Water baptism is not mentioned in most of Paul's 14 letters.
  8. 1st Thessalonians 4:14 says that Jesus is going to bring those (believers) who believe that Jesus died and rose with Him at the Rapture. There's no mention of baptism.
  9. Water baptism is part of The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and is important to our Christian walk, that is, discipleship. Yet, when Paul wrote to the church at Corinth for the first time, he said  in 1st Corinthians 2:2, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Notice that Paul wasn't concerned if they had been water baptized. Clearly, water baptism is not essential to being born-again.
  10.  Repeatedly the Bible teaches that eternal life is a gift (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). A gift needs merely to be taken, not earned. If water baptism were necessary to receive eternal life, then it couldn't be a gift, because human effort would be required to have it.

END

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