Does Acts 22:16 Teach Baptism Washes Away Sin?
Written by John Carson
What does Acts 22:16 teach about baptism? Is baptism required for sins to be washed away as some teach?
I felt it would be important to first start off with providing various translations of Acts 22:16. Which would you select? Pay particular attention to the placements of commas and periods:
- “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’” (NASB)
- “What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.’” (NLT)
- “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’” (NIV)
- “And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins by calling on His name.’” (HCSB)
Confusing? Hopefully this will un-confuse you. Most people are unaware that the earliest Greek manuscripts were written in all capital letters and with some punctuation, however they were not used consistently. This means that different translators (there are a lot of good translations, but some are bad) will place punctuations in different locations in a given text. So what I hope you get out of this, is not to get too caught up with where commas may be placed in particular translations (unless such a placement is used to purposefully pervert a Bible passage, i.e. The Watchtower’s New World Translation of Luke 23:43). This why it is good to study various, reputable translations of the Bible.
A person who holds to baptism being essential for salvation may favour the New International Version (NIV), but reject the Holman’s Christian Study Bible (HCSB) because of where the commas are placed in those translations.
Paul To Receive His Sight and Be Filled With the Holy Spirit
The context of this verse is an account of the Apostle Paul’s experience when he was known as Saul of Tarsus just after Ananias laid his hands on his eyes for healing. So we get the best clues on how to interpret Acts 22:16 from other accounts of his experience, as well as considering other passages.
Jesus sent Ananias to Brother Saul (from here on I'll refer to as Paul) not only so he can receive back his sight, but so he would also be filled with the Holy Spirit.
- “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized” (Acts 9:17-18)
Jesus told Ananias that Paul received a vision of him placing his hands on Paul for healing.
- “The Lord told him (Ananias), “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”” (Acts 9:11-12)
Since there is no mention in Paul’s vision of him being filled with the Holy Spirit when Ananias placed his hands on him, then is it possible that Paul could have been filled with the Holy Spirit after this? Yes. Notice when Ananias pleaded with Paul to have his sins washed away. Here is Paul’s account.
- “‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’” (Acts 22:13-16 NASB)
As you can see, Acts 9:11-12 and 22:13-16 indicate Paul called on the name of the Lord after Ananias laid hands on him for healing. The important question that needs to be answered is, were Paul’s sins washed away solely because he called on the name of the Lord, or was baptism needed as well? To find out the answer, we need to consider other Scripture passages.
They Received the Holy Spirit Without Baptism
Notice how in Acts 10:47-48, believers were called to be baptized after they had received the Holy Spirit:
- “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.”
As you can see, Scripture clearly shows believers were filled with the Holy Spirit without the instrumentality of baptism. The call to be baptized came afterward. If baptism was paramount for them to be saved, they would have been filled with the Holy Spirit while they were being baptized, not before.
Also, if Paul needed to be baptized in order for him to be saved, he would have included it as part of the gospel, but he didn't. Certainly he would have at least mentioned baptism if it was instrumental for him being saved (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-10 further down).
Does Baptism Make You Alive in Christ?
But a Baptismal Regenerationist may interject by saying, “Ananias told Paul he needed his sins washed away, and he included baptism, therefore he needed to be baptized.”
It is impossible for a person to be dead in his sins and have the Holy Spirit living in him at the same time. Therefore, those who received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized (Acts 10:47-48), had their sins washed away and became alive in Christ.
1 John 4:13 says:
- “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.”
Those who do not have the Holy Spirit abiding in them, have yet to receive Christ. They are still dead in their sins. In contrast, the believers recorded in Acts 10 were no longer dead in their sins. They became alive in Christ without the instrumentality of baptism. So also, Paul became alive in Christ, not because of baptism, but because Christ washed his sins away and purified him. Baptism does not wash sins away, Jesus Christ does. Check out these verses.
- “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
- “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)
- “Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14)
Baptism Is An Obedient Act for Believers
Again, there is no mention of water baptism. So why did Ananias tell Paul to get up and be baptized? I believe it is because the Lord already revealed to him that Paul was His chosen vessel; and believers are called to be baptized. The first public act of obedience for believers seems quite clear in Scripture: "Be baptized." Ananias accepted and obeyed the Lord's word concerning Paul. He knew he was an instrument in the Lord's hands to preach the gospel. Therefore it was fitting for him to be baptized before he was sent.
- “But the Lord said to him, “Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites.” (Acts 9:15)
Whether Paul was in a body of water, or on his way to water when he called on the name of the Lord to have his sins washed away, no one really knows. Personally, my thinking is that he did not delay at all after Ananias said, "Get up and be baptized." He was probably praising the name of Jesus while running toward the water with Ananias trying to keep up behind him.
What can we get from all of this? We can have full assurance that the obedient act of being baptized was not instrumental in Paul being saved; calling on the name of the Lord was.
Paul’s Experience With Jesus and The Gospel
Paul’s Damascus road experience is very significant. Why? Because it helps us to gain a bigger picture of why Paul became an apostle. It also gives us more of an understanding of the power of the gospel message.
- “Paul, an apostle—not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead.” (Galatians 1:1)
Paul became an apostle because the risen Jesus appeared to him. The word apostle means “one who is sent out.” The risen Lord Himself is the One who sent out Paul (Acts 26:17).
Acts 26:12-18 and 9:1-8 records Paul’s first encounter with the risen Lord. Here are portions of his experience.
- “Then I said, ‘Who are You, Lord? “And the Lord replied: ‘I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen and of what I will reveal to you. I will rescue you from the people and from the Gentiles. I now send you to them to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified.’” (Acts 26:15-18)
- “Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” “Who are You, Lord?” he said. “I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting,” He replied. “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”” (Acts 9:4-6)
Paul was sent to preach the gospel so that eyes would be opened, and that “they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). Passages like Romans 1:16 with Galatians 1:11-12 reveals that the gospel is the power of God for salvation; and that Paul did not receive this gospel from any man. He received it from Jesus Christ Himself. What is the gospel message?
Is Baptism Part of The Gospel Message?
- “Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed for no purpose. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not ineffective.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-10)
- “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.” (Romans 1:16)
Paul does not say baptism has power for salvation; only the gospel of Jesus Christ has this power. He revealed to Paul that He died for his sins, that He was buried, and that on the third day He rose from the dead.
Jesus Gives Life
A key question here is, “When does the power of this gospel become effective for an individual?” Is it through baptism? No! Paul doesn't even mention baptism as being part of the gospel. This next verse is very revealing. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, a stern warning was given to those who had Scriptural knowledge, but refuse to come to Him.
- “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me. And you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40)
A person can have great knowledge about the Messiah, but if he/she does not actually come to Jesus, there is no life in him/her. But just because certain people claim to have come to Jesus does not mean they actually have a relationship with Him. There will be those who will say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?” And Jesus’ response will be,
- “I never knew you!” (Matthew 7:23)
Who Will Be Saved?
So what are we to do? What did Ananias tell Paul he must do? Call upon the name of the Lord.
- “… wash away your sins by calling on His name.” (Acts 22:16)
The key phrase here that should not be passed over lightly is, “calling on His name.” Take a look at Acts 2:21!
- “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
To add baptism as a foundation to salvation, forces Scripture to contradict Scripture. Either everyone who calls on the name of the Lord are saved, or only those who call on His name and are baptized are saved. You can't have both.
Calling on the name of the Lord is the ultimate, and intimate, connection! And it fits perfectly with John 1:12 and 20:31.
- “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12)
- “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)
“In His name” means Jesus has authority! The thief that was crucified beside Jesus asked Him to… “remember me when You come into your kingdom.” Jesus promised the thief, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” (See Luke 23:42-43). The thief on the cross called to Jesus and acknowledged Him as the one who has authority to not only allow him to enter into His kingdom, but that he would also be with Him (that’s relationship!).
(See also, Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?)
Salvation Through Relationship, Not Baptism
An intimate relationship with God is in Jesus’ name! There is life in Jesus’ name! There is power in the name of Jesus! You can have this newness of life; not by baptism, but believing that Jesus died as a payment for your sins, that he was buried and that he rose victorious from the grave, and by receiving Jesus. He is the One who has the authority and the power to bring you to an intimate relationship with God!
Take your time reading this beautiful prayer from Jesus:
“I pray not only for these,
but also for those who believe in Me
through their message.
May they all be one,
as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You.
May they also be one in Us,
so the world may believe You sent Me.
I have given them the glory You have given Me.
May they be one as We are one.
I am in them and You are in Me.
May they be made completely one,
so the world may know You have sent Me
and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
The Holy Spirit says:
- “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 3:7-8)
Come to Jesus! He is the One who can wash your sins away!