Does Acts 2:38 Really Teach That Baptism Is Necessary For Salvation?
By Osamagbe Lesley Egharevba | Lagos, Nigeria
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
Many teach that the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins” in Acts 2:38 means “because of” and not “in order to.” Hence what Peter was saying on that day was for them to repent and be baptized because their sins had already been forgiven. To prove this, notice the supposed parallel example that one preacher gave: Suppose a doctor says: “Please take an aspirin for a headache,” does that mean one is to take an aspirin in order to have a headache or one should take an aspirin because one already has a headache? He argues that since taking aspiring for a headache would mean taking aspirin because you already have a headache, then baptize for the forgiveness of sins would mean be baptize because you already have your sins forgiven. Let us quickly examine this argument.
First, if the word “for” in Acts 2:38 means “because of”, that would mean they were to repent because their sins were already forgiven – hence repentance is EXCLUDED in the requirement to be saved. Would this preacher admit that the people on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 were already forgiven of their sins before they repented? Well, Luke 13:3 teaches the exact opposite as there is no salvation for anyone who would not repent.
Second, notice that the people asked Peter what to do to be saved on Pentecost day (Acts 2:37). Does it make sense for someone to ask you what to do to be saved (the very question of Acts 2:37), then you tell them two things to do because they are already saved? If “for” means “because of,” in Acts 2:38 then Peter completely ignored their question.
Third, the expression “for the remission of sins” is from the Greek phrase “eis aphesin amartion.” A similar expression is found in Matthew 26:28, where we find that Jesus says, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many, for the remission of sins.” There is the very same phrase “eis aphesin amartion” in Acts 2:38 and Matthew 26:28. One is: Be baptized “for the remission of sins,” (Acts 2:38) and the other is: Jesus shed his blood “for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). If it means “because of” in one place, it would certainly mean it in the other. Now, the question is: Did Christ pour out His blood because people’s sins have been forgiven, or in order that people’s sins might be forgiven? If anyone says that Christ poured out His blood because of the forgiveness of sins, such would be saying that sins were forgiven before Christ shed his blood, and the Bible does not teach that (Hebrews 9:22). And if we say that Christ shed His blood to obtain the forgiveness of sins, then we must say that baptism is in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins because it is identically the same phrase without any difference. Hence, the argument that baptism has nothing to do with their salvation in Acts 2:38 is flawed!
Fourt, The Greek word translated “for” in Acts 2:38 is the word eis. This Greek word is used primarily to represent a going into, an indication of purpose, or the going in the direction of a goal. The same Greek word is used in Acts 11:18 when it is said that God granted to the Gentiles “repentance unto life.” If “eis” means “because of”, then “repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18) would mean that they got life or salvation before they ever repented. Does this even make sense? No!
Fifth, the aspirin example stated above is an unparallel example to the statement in Acts 2:38. Yes, it is true that the statement “Please take an aspirin for your headache” does not mean one should take the aspirin to get a headache. He takes an aspirin because he already has a headache. But this is not the way Acts 2:38 reads. Acts 2:38 does not read: “Repent and be baptized for your sins.” For the aspirin example to be parallel with the phrase “for the remission of sins” in Acts 2:38, it would have to read this way: “Please take an aspirin for the relief of a headache.” That way, it would mean that the patient is to take aspirin in order to get rid of his headache just as Acts 2:38 would mean that they were to be baptized to get rid of their sins. Peter’s audience on Pentecost were not composed of critics seeking to justify a doctrine of “faith only.” Rather, they were simple, humble people who understood what to do. “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized, and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41).