Is Baptism Essential for Salvation?
Does Acts 2:38 prove one must be baptized in water in order to receive the remission of sins? Does this passage of Scripture also prove that the receiving of the Holy Ghost happens after water baptism?
Let's look at the passage:
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.
What is the first thing Peter said to those who asked, “What must we do?” (verse 37) Answer: Repent. It comes from the Greek "metanoeo"
Met-an-o-eh'-o from meta = change, and noieo = to exercise the mind; to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider (morally, feel compunction):--repent.
It means to change one’s thinking. It is the same word Jesus used when He said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel."
Why am I giving attention to this word? Because the gospel is the power of God for Salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Nowhere is it stated in the Bible that baptism has this power. Believing is to change one's thinking because of the power of the gospel message. Did you know that repentance unto salvation is also not of our own power?
Acts 5:31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
What does this verse say is given? Answer: Repentance and forgiveness. The whole act of regeneration is from God alone, so that no one can boast…
Eph. 2:8, 9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
But doesn’t Acts 2:38 teach that in order to receive remission of sins, we need to be baptized first?
Actually it does not say that at all. The word 'for' (eis) in Acts 2:38 needs to be studied carefully. It is similar to our English word. Here are two different ways this word can be used:
For = In order to receive… "Take two sleeping pills for a good night's sleep."
The person would take two sleeping pills in order to receive a good night's sleep.
For = Because of… "Take two aspirins for your headache."
The person takes two aspirins because he already has a headache. (Obviously it makes no sense for a person to take aspirin in order to receive a headache.)
Greek Scholar A.T. Robertson's comments are worth reading. He demonstrates a "causal" (because of) meaning for "eis," and uses Acts 2:38 as an example. The sense would be; "repent and be baptized ... because of the forgivness of sins."
"But then another usage exists which is just as good Greek .... It is seen in Mat 10:41 in three examples, 'eis onoma prophetou, dikaiou, mathetou' 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 Mat 12:41 about the preaching of Jonah (eis to kerugma Iona). They repented because of (or at) the preaching of Jonah. The illustrations of both usages are numerous in the N.T. and the Koiné 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." [Robertson, A. T., Word Pictures, Acts 2:38]
Also, another reason why the word 'for' must be viewed as causal (because of), is because Scripture is never in disharmony with Scripture. They will always harmonize. Look very carefully at Acts 10:44-48. Peter had just finished preaching the gospel:
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.
Here, we see these believers had already received the Holy Ghost. Does the Holy Ghost dwell in those who have not been saved? Of course not. This means they had already received the remission of their sins before entering the waters of baptism. So, just as Acts 10 demonstrates that believers should be baptized because they have received the Holy Ghost, so does Act 2:38. Otherwise you would only be left with severe contradiction.