Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

Written by John Carson 


“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 KJV)


The question of Acts 2:38 is whether Peter’s call for those who were ‘cut to the heart’ (verse 37) by his preaching to be baptized, was either to be performed with reference to, that is, as a symbol of forgiveness of sins; or, for the purpose of or in order for them to obtain forgiveness of sins.


A proponent of the teaching that baptism is necessary to obtain forgiveness, Wes McAdams from Radically Christian, wrote:


“Many argue with the biblical teaching on baptism. They say they were saved first, then later were baptized because they were saved. In other words, they believe baptism is to show people they’ve already been saved. This is simply not the biblical teaching on baptism.


Occasionally, the argument is made about the Greek word, “eis” in Acts 2:38, that it means “because of.” But this is simply not true. The Greek word “eis” occurs over 1,700 times in the New Testament and it never means “because of.””


Is this statement from Wes McAdams accurate? No!


Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states that one meaning of ‘for’ (eis) is, “of reference or relation; with respect to, in reference to; as regards” 


Matthew 12:41 is given as an example… Jesus said, “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at (eis) the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”


Did the men of Nineveh repent in order to obtain, or receive, the preaching of Jonah? Obviously not. Jonah preached and the men of Nineveh repented because of his preaching.


Therefore because of cannot be ruled out as an option for the meaning of eis in Acts 2:38. If this is the case, then the verse would indicate that baptism is performed with reference to, that is, as a sign or symbol of forgiveness of sins. But is such a rendering of the verse consistent with other Scripture passages? 


Let's look at another verse that deals with baptism. John the Baptizer said in Matthew 3:11:


“As for me, I baptize you with water for (eis) repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”


Did John baptize people in order for them to gain repentance? No! They were baptized because they had already repented. Now let's read Acts 2:38 again with the option that for can indeed mean because of:


“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for (because of) the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”


We must never take a verse in isolation to build doctrines around. Rather, we must allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. If an individual interpretation of a Bible verse is in disharmony with other verses, then this would be an extremely strong indication that such an interpretation is unbiblical. It is far too easy for people to read into a text what they want it to say when other passages are ignored or disregarded. Notice that Peter included receiving the Holy Spirit in this next passage I will present to you. If people receive the Holy Spirit prior to baptism, then obviously baptism would not be a requirement before one receives the Holy Spirit. Look at Acts 10:43-48:


“Of Him (Jesus) all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “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. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.”


Notice first, Peter said that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins. Next, those who received Peter’s message did receive the Holy Spirit prior to being baptized. Lastly, Peter said not to refuse water for those who had already received the Holy Spirit so that they can be baptized. If it was God’s purpose for these to receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit through believing in the Lord Jesus Christ prior to them being baptized, then this harmonizes perfectly with Peter’s call for those to be baptized because of receiving the forgivenesses of sins in Acts 2:38. 


To force Acts 2:38 to mean baptism is a requirement for salvation, actually makes Jesus a liar. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, a criminal who was crucified beside him said, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42) This man was acknowledging who Jesus is… the King who has the authority to allow this wretched man into His kingdom. Did Jesus respond, “Truly I say to you, you must first be baptized, then you can be with Me in Paradise?” No! Jesus said to this unbaptized man, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (verse 43). 


The disciple who was known as John the Beloved wrote at the beginning of his gospel, “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). At the end of this gospel, did John add, “but these have been written so that not only must you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; but you must also be baptized before you may have life in His name?” No! 


John wrote, “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)