All right, in Part 1, we covered a few basics on water baptism, stressing the fact that baptism is a good work that every true Christian should do, but that it does not save him. We also stressed the fact that Scripture must be taken as a whole so that we don’t make it contradict itself.
Today, we will go over Bible passages that certain groups (Catholics, Orthodox, some Protestants, and even some cults) will often use to try and prove that water baptism is necessary in order to be saved. So, let’s get started.
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 you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
There is much debate over that little word “for” (Greek, “eis”) in this verse. On the surface, it certainly looks like Peter could be suggesting that baptism is “for” (i.e., to cause) the forgiveness of sins. But could there be any other possible meanings of this Greek word, or is this the only way it can be used? Most Greek words are very precise, but the fact is, most people don’t realize that this tiny Greek word, translated “for” in Acts 2:38, is used in a wide variety of ways. Some will insist that it means “to cause” in this passage, so they believe that baptism causes salvation (the forgiveness of sins). But we would insist that “eis” can be translated as “because of” in this context, and that Peter was simply telling them to repent, which would then cause salvation, and then they should get baptized as a demonstration of their faith and identity with Jesus Christ.
So, what evidence do we have that “eis” could mean “because of” instead of “to cause” in Acts 2:38?
1) First of all, this word has MANY meanings in Scripture, e.g., “into,” “to,” “unto,” “in,” “at,” “for,” “on,” “toward,” “against,” “among,” “upon,” “purpose,” “result,” “aim,” “ground.” It could also mean “with respect to,” “as regards,” “on the basis of,” “in reference to,” “because of,” etc. (Sources: Strong’s Concordance; A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament; The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon; all online) So, although one translation of this word can be “to cause,” it is certainly not the only one. Looking to context and observing the whole of Scripture will greatly help in determining the correct understanding in each case.
2) We have examples of Scripture using this same Greek word to mean “because of.” For example, the people of Nineveh repented at (“eis”) the preaching of Jonah (Matthew 12:41); their repentance did not cause Jonah’s preaching, but rather, they repented BECAUSE OF Jonah’s preaching).
Matthew 3:11 says that John the Baptist baptized with water unto (“eis”) repentance. This verse is not saying that baptism causes repentance, but that a person is baptized BECAUSE OF his repentance. We know that there are some who get baptized just for show, just to please a friend, parent, spouse, etc., and are just going through the motions with no repentance, and with no real intention to serve God. Their baptism is meaningless. So obviously, baptism itself does not cause repentance. Repentance is caused by God changing man’s heart. And being baptized without first repenting is worse than useless; it is deceptive and harmful to the gospel.
Another phrase using “eis” with the same basic meaning as “because of” is “for this purpose,” and we can find it in a number of Bible verses: John 18:37; Acts 9:21; 26:16; Romans 9:17; Colossians 4:8; 1 Peter 4:6; 1 John 3:8.
3) There are clear biblical examples of people getting saved before ever getting water baptized, e.g., in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:35-38; the apostle Paul, 9:17-18; Cornelius and his many friends, 10:42-48). There are no cases in the Bible where an unsaved person, a non-believer, gets baptized. Repentance / salvation must always precede baptism.
4) If it meant “to cause,” it would contradict many clear Bible verses that tell us that one is saved by faith, apart from the merit of his works (Romans 3:28; 4:2-6; 11:6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 3:8-9; Titus 3:5, etc., etc.). It is also ironic that in this same verse (Acts 2:38), Peter refers to the free GIFT of salvation, given by the Holy Spirit, and yet, these groups tell us that salvation is through a work, i.e., the performance of a ritual (baptism). But no one works for a gift. If he does, then it is simply not a gift, but something earned! (Romans 4:4-5; 11:6) And this would be a contradiction of terms.
See the links in Part 1 of this series here:
So, there are good reasons to believe that “eis” in Acts 2:38 means “because of” the remission of your sins, rather than “to cause” the remission of your sins. Peter is saying to first repent / believe, which will bring about forgiveness, as God gives you the Holy Spirit, changes your heart, and makes you eligible for baptism.
The same principles above (at least number 3 and 4) will equally apply to all other “baptism verses,” because we must never violate the principles of a well established major doctrine of Scripture (i.e., salvation by faith apart from the merit of one’s works - Romans chapter 3, 4, and 5) in an attempt to prove another doctrine. Scripture is always consistent with itself. And since this topic is actually about justification and what causes it, we would refer the reader to the “Owner’s Manual” Analogy, which can be found in the following article:
He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who believes not shall be damned.
And they’ll say, “You see! We need both belief and baptism to be saved!”
If this were the only passage on baptism, salvation, and the role of works in a Christian’s life, then they might have a good argument. But, as we said before, point #3 and #4 above make this argument void.
But are we supposed to trust the type / shadow / symbol (of baptism) for salvation, or the substance (Jesus’ work and suffering on the cross)? Saying that we need to trust both to be saved is adding to the cross, something that Paul sternly warned the Galatian church against (Galatians 1:8-9; 2:4, 16, 21; 3:1-3, 11, 22). See here:
Baptism is related to salvation, but it should not be mistaken for a requirement for salvation.
And now why do you tarry? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the Name of the Lord.
Here, the apostle Paul is retelling the story of his conversion and Ananias’ instructions to him. According to a number of Greek scholars, the original language in this verse says, “…having called on” His name. In other words, it is past tense; it is something done previously. So, the “calling on His name” was done first, bringing forgiveness and salvation (Romans 10:12-13), before the baptism was ever accomplished.
And this is exactly how it happened with the apostle Paul. Notice that when Ananias first received his vision from the Lord, he called Paul “this man” (Acts 9:13). But when he later actually laid hands on Paul (known at that time as Saul), Ananias then called him “Brother Saul” (Acts 22:13), demonstrating that God had revealed to him that Paul was saved during his three days of blindness (before his baptism). Therefore, it is the calling on His name that causes the washing away of your sins, not baptism. Once again, it was believing / repentance / faith / salvation BEFORE baptism.
Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:13:
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also you are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, Who has raised Him from the dead.
These types of passages are similar in that they all mention baptism. But remember, as we stated in Part 1, not all references to “baptism” are speaking of water baptism. Once again, water baptism is a sign or symbol of the reality of what happens in the heart of the believer. He should already possess what baptism is symbolizing for him. The fact is, a person is “baptized into Christ” the moment he believes. Water baptism is just a physical expression of what happens spiritually. To put it another way, baptism is a token, like a wedding ring. A man wears a wedding ring, not TO GET married, but he wears it because he IS ALREADY married.
So, none of these Bible verses make the case for this false doctrine of baptismal regeneration. We will continue our study in Part 3…