REPORT: Water Baptism, what is its place today?


Axe dropper
Water Baptism, what is its place today?

You are at a gathering of friends. The topic of religion comes up. One of your friends, Mary, says you have to be baptized to be saved. She quotes Acts 2:38 and Mark 16:16. Another one, John, says you don’t have to be baptized to be saved, but if you became a believer, you would follow the Lord in baptism as an outward sign of an inner work. He quotes Acts 16:31 and says this shows that the only thing a person must do to be saved is believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Mary disagrees. She shows that water baptism was even necessary in the epistles. She shows you 1 Peter 3:20,21,

who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine long-suffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But John shows you Ephesians 2:8,9. "It is not of works", and says "Baptism would be a work. Baptism should come after you’re saved, but it doesn’t save you!"

Well, what should you believe? Who is right? Both are right, and both are wrong. Let’s look at the Scriptures and see why. The gospel starts with the ministry of John the Baptist. His message was, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mat 3:2)! He preached "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Mark 1:3). What? He preached that a person had to be baptized to be saved? Yes! Let’s remember the proper procedures for good Bible study:

1.Find out who is speaking.

2.Find out to whom they are speaking.

3.Find out what dispensation it is being said under.

4.Observe the passage in its context.

To whom was John the Baptist sent? It says in John 1:31 that John was sent to Israel: "I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water." Well, that’s pretty clear. John came to Israel to show that Jesus was the Messiah or Christ. It was at a time when God was only dealing with the Jews. The method of salvation was repent and be baptized for your sins. This was the message of the kingdom gospel. Luke 16:16 shows when the kingdom gospel started: "The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it."

Did Christ and the apostles preach the same gospel that John preached? Yes, for it says that they did in Matthew 10:5-10 and Mark 1:14,15. Now, notice the context. Baptism was linked with the message of the kingdom promised to David. This was the good news of the circumcision (Gal 2:7-9).

When John began his ministry there was only one baptism, water. Was it necessary for salvation? Yes. We even find Jesus saying to Nicodemus in John 3:5 that if a man wants to enter into the kingdom of God, he must be born of water and of the Spirit. This requirement of water baptism fits the context of John’s message. John began baptizing, and the apostles continued after the resurrection and the day of Pentecost. Christ commanded the Eleven in Mark 16:15-16, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." Peter insisted on the same requirement ten days later on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38. "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."

Here we see that water baptism was necessary before Holy Spirit baptism would take place. So, now for the first time, we have two baptisms. Water baptism is necessary for salvation. Then, Holy Spirit baptism takes place. From the context of verses 22 and 39 we see that this happened while God was still dealing with Israel. Peter was only speaking to Israel in 22, and he was referring to the promise made to Israel in 39.

Next, something very important happens. The Apostle Paul is saved. We will not go into the differences in Paul’s salvation, although it appears that Paul was saved under the same message Peter preached in Acts 2. Acts 22:16 says, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord."

Since God had started a new dispensation with Paul (Gal 1:11-2:9; Eph 3:1-9), all kinds of different things began to happen.

1.Peter got a vision in Acts 10 which showed that Israel had been set aside. They were no longer God’s special people. This was shown by the vision given to Peter when the law of clean and unclean animals was set aside (Lev 20:24-26).

2.Peter was sent to a Gentile and told by the Holy Spirit to doubt nothing (Acts 10:20).

3.The most significant event happened when Peter went to the Gentiles. When they believed, the Holy Spirit interrupted Peter’s message before he could tell them to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. In fact, the Holy Spirit fell on all the Gentiles while Peter was still preaching. The Jews who accompanied Peter were amazed. This, indeed, was a dispensational sign from God that something had changed.

What had changed? God had started a new program when He saved Paul. However, since God would only reveal the new message to the Apostle Paul, Peter was still preaching the same message he had always preached (Acts 10:34-43). Let’s review the situation at this point of our investigation.

1.At first there was only one baptism, John’s. It was necessary for salvation.

2.Then things started changing when Paul was saved.

3.The Holy Spirit fell on Gentiles before they were water baptized. Remember, water baptism was a sign to Jews to show Christ to them.

Sometime during his second missionary journey the Apostle Paul told the body of Christ about the baptisms which they knew of, in this manner: "I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius . . . . For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (1 Cor 1:14,17 Read in context.). From this we see that Paul was not under the great commission which was given to the circumcision apostles.

In the same epistle, he wrote, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body; whether Jews or Greeks" (1 Cor 12:13). So, water baptism had changed from being the only baptism, and necessary for salvation, to a ritual which had faded away.

Next, another very important incident happened. God finished showing Israel that they had been set aside. He had done this in a progressive manner which reached its conclusion in Acts 28:28. It started in Acts 13:46, continued in Acts 18:6, and was concluded in Acts 28:28.

After Israel had been shown that they had been set aside, Paul was inspired by God to write Ephesians. In Ephesians 4:3-6, Paul wrote about the unity of the Spirit. He was writing about God’s dealings with Christians today. He wrote, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, two baptisms." What? It doesn’t say two baptisms? It says there "is one baptism"? Yes, that’s right. Which one is it then? It must be Spirit baptism since the Holy Spirit is still sealing members into the body of Christ.

Well then, we can see that the gospel message started out with one baptism, water. This was necessary for salvation. It progressed to two: water first, then, Holy Spirit baptism. The water baptism was still necessary for salvation. Finally, in this dispensation, it returned to one, Holy Spirit, which is now necessary for salvation. After the rapture of the body of Christ, the circumcision gospel will be in place again. Water baptism will become necessary for salvation again (1 Pet 3:18-22). So, both of your friends would be right and wrong. Therefore, we must always search the Scriptures to see what is right dispensationally.

With this in mind, we must study the history of water baptism in the Scriptures to come to the vital understanding of its relationship to the covenant of circumcision. We know that a number of baptisms are mentioned in the Old Testament. Numbers 19:9-21 shows that a water rite was necessary for salvation under the law.

Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin. 10 And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening. It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwells among them. 11 He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. 12 He shall purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean. 13 Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD. That person shall be cut off from Israel. He shall be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness is still on him. 14 This is the law when a man dies in a tent: All who come into the tent and all who are in the tent shall be unclean seven days; 15 and every open vessel, which has no cover fastened on it, is unclean. 16 Whoever in the open field touches one who is slain by a sword or who has died, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. 17 And for an unclean person they shall take some of the ashes of the heifer burnt for purification from sin, and running water shall be put on them in a vessel. 18 A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, sprinkle it on the tent, on all the vessels, on the persons who were there, or on the one who touched a bone, the slain, the dead, or a grave. 19 The clean person shall sprinkle the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, wash his clothes, and bathe in water; and at evening he shall be clean. 20 But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person shall be cut off from among the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. The water of purification has not been sprinkled on him; he is unclean. 21 It shall be a perpetual statute for them. He who sprinkles the water of purification shall wash his clothes; and he who touches the water of purification shall be unclean until evening.

Today, we can see that Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, is the antitype of the red heifer. So it’s easy to see why the Jews disputed with John the Baptist’s disciples about purification when he was baptizing the multitudes who came to him. This dispute probably arose because John was baptizing with authority. Yet, they seemed to think that he was not in compliance with the statutes of Numbers 19. Questions were asked. Why are you baptizing? Who are you? What is your authority? He gave his credentials by quoting the scriptures about the forerunner of Messiah. John had a commission to the nation. I believe the Scriptures show his purpose was to bring Israel back into covenant relationship with God. This would be accomplished by purification and remission of their sins. Zacharias’ prophecy in Luke 1:67-77 established this.

Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: 68 Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, 69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David, 70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, Who have been since the world began, 71 That we should be saved from our enemies And from the hand of all who hate us, 72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers And [notice] to remember His holy covenant, 73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: 74 To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, 75 [notice] In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, 77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins.

In a future day, God said He would baptize (wash away the filth of) all Israel (Isa. 4:3,4). God would also judge at that time. Isaiah’s prophecy seems to be pointing to the time of the tribulation. This and similar passages may explain why the whole nation was in expectation (Lk. 3:15) and went out to John wondering if he was the Messiah.

It is interesting to see that under the law, the priests were baptized when they were thirty years old (Num. 4:2,3,23; 8:6,7; 1 Chr. 23:3) in preparation for their consecration as priests (Ex. 28:41-29:9). The anointing with oil during this consecration may represent the Holy Spirit. Since Peter’s message was a Jewish gospel (Acts 2:22,36), water baptism preceded Holy Spirit baptism (Acts 2:38).

God promised to make Israel a kingdom of priests in Exodus 19:5,6 and Isaiah 61:6.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel (Ex. 19:5,6).

But you shall be named the priests of the LORD, they shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory you shall boast" (Is. 61:6).

Since Isaiah 61:1,2 was fulfilled in Christ’s ministry, it is reasonable to believe that Isaiah 61:6 is linked with it also. The nation of Israel would be baptized to become a kingdom of priests. Isaiah 61:1,2a was quoted by Luke in Luke 4:16-21,

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: 18 The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD. 20 Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

I believe John the Baptist baptized Israel in fulfillment of Exodus 19:5,6 and Isaiah 61:6. He baptized great crowds for the Lord from all the tribes, not just from the tribe of Levi, according to Matthew 3:5,6, "Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins." Apparently John sprinkled them with water just as Moses confirmed the old covenant with Israel using blood (Ex. 24:3-8). Remember, in Ezekiel 36 God had promised to sprinkle them with water to make them clean. Again, it appears that John was preparing them to be a kingdom of priests. In Acts 2:38, Peter was doing the same thing. In fact, the circumcision believers were later called a royal priesthood by Peter in 1 Peter 2:5,9.

You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

John baptized Jesus when He was about 30 years old (Lk. 3:23), possibly for His priesthood. This baptism was for the sins of the world just as His death baptism (Lk. 12:50) was. That’s why He told John, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Mat. 3:15). Christ was also baptized with the Spirit (Jo. 1:33). These three baptisms witness to Christ’s provision of eternal life according to 1 John 5:8-11.

There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood 9 . . . . for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son . . . . 11 And this is the witness: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

John the Baptist explained why he baptized Christ. It was to reveal to Israel that Jesus was the Messiah: "I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water" (Jo. 1:31).

John preached a baptism for the remission of sins in Matthew 3:1-6 and Luke 3:3,8.

3:1-6 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.’" 4 And John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

3:3,8 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, 8 "Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones."

This baptism was referred to as "a baptism of repentance" in Luke 3:3 and Acts 13:24 because the people confessed their sins while he was baptizing them (Mat. 3:6). This is why John castigated the Pharisees and lawyers when they came to his baptism but were not willing to submit to this aspect of its meaning (Lk. 7:30). This baptism for repentance would be too humiliating for them. They preferred to resist the counsel of God for themselves. God’s counsel is that all have room for repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).

In Matthew 3:11, John said, "I indeed baptize you with water for repentance." Their sins were forgiven when they submitted to this baptism while confessing their sins. This is why John’s baptism is also referred to as "a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Lk. 3:3). John 3:25 shows the Jews understood that the biblical purpose of baptism was purification. Whether or not they based their dispute directly on the purification of Numbers 19:9-21, we can see that John’s ministry was to bring "knowledge of salvation by the remission of their sins to His people," Israel (Lk. 1:76,77).

Therefore, we can draw the following conclusions concerning water baptism:

1.It is Jewish, based on Mosaic law.

2.It is an initiatory rite for the priesthood.

3.It accompanied true repentance and confession of sins.

4.It resulted in the remission of sins.

5.It is associated with the Messianic Kingdom and the new covenant.

Water baptism continued as a requirement for salvation after Pentecost because God continued to offer Israel the kingdom (Acts 3:19-26). If they had repented, God would have sent Christ back (Acts 3:20). Before Pentecost, Christ had commanded belief and water baptism as requirements for salvation shortly after His resurrection. Mark 16:16 says, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." Both "believes" and "is baptized" are translated from aorist participles. According to Greek syntax, the action of these participles must precede the action of the main verb, "will be saved." Therefore, a person had to believe and be baptized before he would be saved. When viewed in its setting of the circumcision covenant, this is consistent with the purification rituals which were imposed on Israel.

Even after the Ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, God demanded water baptism for the remission of sins. "Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for (eis) the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’" (Acts 2:38).

Baptist Greek scholars have attempted to explain this difficult passage. Why is it difficult for them? Since they believe that the body of Christ began at or before Acts 2, and they affirm the Pauline doctrine that belief alone is required for salvation, Peter’s preaching of a "baptism for the remission of sins" poses a serious hermeneutical problem which they must reconcile.

In his monumental grammar, A.T. Robertson wrote, "only the context and the tenor of N.T. teaching can determine whether into, unto, or merely in or on (upon) is the right translation, a task for the interpreter, not for the grammarian." In other words, Robertson says your theological persuasion will cause you to interpret it the way you do. But is there a more objective way to find the meaning of the word eis? How can we ascertain its meaning in this text? We will see this is done only by thorough observation.

To begin with, years after he authored his grammar, Robertson wrote,

This phrase is the subject of endless controversy as men look at it from the standpoint of sacramental or of evangelical theology. In themselves the words can express aim or purpose for that use of eis does exist as in I Cor. 2:7 eis doxan haymon (for our glory)."

I want to emphasize the fact that eis generally means for, into, or unto. J.B. Smith tabulated the translation of eis in the KJV. He showed it occurs 1773 times. Of these 1773 times, it is always translated with the idea of aim or purpose. It occurs 573 times as into, 281 as to, 207 as unto, 140 as for, 138 as in, 58 as on, 29 as toward, 26 as against, 26 as to (with the definite article), 24 times as upon etc. In other words, aim or purpose is the sense of eis in the New Testament.

Robertson continued,

But then another usage exists which is just as good Greek as the use of ei*" for aim or purpose. It is seen in Matt. 10:41,42 in three examples eis onoma profaytou, eis onoma dikaiou, eis onoma mathaytou 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."

I must be quick to point out that Smith does not list one instance where the translation of eis is "on the basis" or "because one is." Unfortunately, Robertson’s interpretation was not driven by his comprehensive understanding of Greek grammar or by linguistics, but by his theological position. Ironically, Robertson is the best source to refute his strained interpretation of eis here. He wrote that the phrase, "In the name of," is a common expression and quite suitable to the interpretation of the text. He showed that eis has displaced en in modern Greek. He even used Matthew 12:41 as an example.

He continued,

It is seen again in Matt. 12:41 about the preaching of Jonah (eis to kayrugma Iona). They repented because of (or at) the preaching of Jonah. The illustrations of both usages are numerous in the N.T. and the Koine generally (Robertson, Grammar, p. 592).

However, Robertson does not list any further references of the "numerous" usages of ei*" as "on the basis," etc., in his grammar on p. 592. But, he is honest and admits that "One will decide the use here according as he believes that baptism is essential to the remission of sins or not."

Dana and Mantey, also Baptist scholars, have an excellent article on this subject in their Greek grammar. But after showing that Mantey’s examples of causal uses of eis were forced, Turner wrote, "By way of reply, R. Marcus observed that if Mantey is right to interpret these NT passages causally his support must come from theology rather than linguistics."

Robertson continued,

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."

This interpretation would be the answer Robertson sought, but he came to this conclusion only by citing four obscure instances where he thought ei*" should be translated "on the basis," or "on the ground." But these instances in Matthew 10:41,42 could be translated more in line with the general meaning of the word, "with a view of", or "in the sphere of," and Matthew 12:41 could be translated "they repented into the preaching (kayrugma) of Jonah," that is "into a state of harmony with Jonah’s prophecy," or "into the object of Jonah’s preaching, righteousness," or as Turner wrote, "but at is sufficient."

The important thing to see about Robertson’s argument is this: He took two controversial passages (Matt. 10:41; 12:41) where the meaning is unsure in order to try to prove his point. He could not produce anything stronger. There is nothing to substantiate his translation of this word in the other 1700 plus times it is used.

Robertson truly had reason to try to explain away the normal understanding of this passage, for others have definitely asserted its importance for forgiveness of sins. Pedobaptist Oscar Cullman wrote,

Why is [baptism] further bound up with the immersion for forgiveness of sins that John already practiced, following the precedent of proselyte baptism? It was understandable that proselyte baptism and Johannine baptism should be represented as an act of washing, because its effect was forgiveness of sins. Just as ordinary water takes away the physical uncleanness of the body, so the water of baptism will take away sins.

That able Lutheran expositor, Lenski, also strongly asserted,

The aorist imperative is one of authority and demands a decisive act that is to stand once for all. . . . "Repent" is plural, but "be baptized" has the distributive singular subject "everyone of you." The two acts, however, always go together in the case of adults, and all difficulty disappears when we properly conceive them as a unit. Let us not separate them. . . . Jesus continued John’s baptism (John 4:1,2). This baptism was not only symbolical. As practiced by both John and Jesus and then as being appointed for all nations it bestowed the remission of sins and was thus a true sacrament. The Twelve, as far as we know, had been baptized only with John’s baptism. . . . "Everyone of you" makes repentance and baptism personal in the highest degree. Salvation deals with each individual. Note the universality: "everyone," no matter what his condition or position may be. . . . This preposition [eis] connects remission so closely with baptism that nobody has as yet been able to separate the two. It is this gift of remission that makes baptism a true sacrament; otherwise it would be only a sign or a symbol that conveys nothing real. In order to make baptism such a symbol, we are told that Peter’s phrase means only that baptism pictures remission, a remission we may obtain by some other means at some later day. But this alters the force of Peter’s words. Can one persuade himself that Peter told these sinners who were stricken with their terrible guilt to accept a baptism that pointed to some future remission? Had he no remission to offer them now? And when and how could they get that remission, absolutely the one thing they must have? And how can Ananias in 22:16 say, "Be baptized and wash away thy sins!" as though the water of baptism washed them away by its connection with the Name?

C.S. Lovett, a Baptist, dealt with the problem in his commentary on Acts. His explanation of Acts 2:38 is similar to the reasoning of my thesis.

BAPTIZED. This is for Jews ONLY, specifically those guilty of publicly shaming and crucifying their Messiah. Since they denied Him openly, Peter demands they acknowledge Him openly. He requires the Lord’s method of identification, i.e., the long established custom of Jewish water baptism. It was done in a public place with the phrase, ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth’ said over them. Such a public acknowledgment would result in the loss of all things precious to Jews. Done in the face of the Sanhedrin and the mobs which hated Christ, it was solid evidence they had really changed their minds about Jesus. The baptism was identical to that of John the Baptist, only this time they had to mean it. The price was too high for phonies to participate. The outward act certified the inward revolution of mind which made them eligible for the gift of God. Jewish baptism differs from Christian baptism in that it occurs BEFORE salvation, indicating repentance.

The apparent source of Lovett’s comments was Arno C. Gaebelein. Gaebelein was also a strong (though Baptistic) dispensationalist.

Repentance and baptism stand out very prominently in this answer to the conscience-stricken Jews, and attached to it is the promise of the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. These words not being correctly understood, have led to much confusion. Upon these words doctrines, especially concerning water baptism, have been built, which are not alone nowhere else taught in the Bible, but which are opposed to the Gospel. The words of Peter to his Jewish brethren have been used to make water-baptism a saving ordinance, that only by submission to water-baptism, with repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, can remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit be obtained. . . . We must bear in mind that Peter addressed those who had openly rejected Jesus. They had, therefore, also openly to acknowledge their wrong and thus openly own Him as Messiah, whom they had disowned by delivering Him into the hands of lawless men. Repentance meant for them to own their guilt in having opposed and rejected Jesus. Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (in which it differs from the baptism of John) was the outward expression of that repentance. It was for these Jews, therefore, [notice] a preliminary necessity. And here we must not forget that Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost had it still to do with the kingdom, as we shall more fully learn from his second address in the third chapter. Another offer of the kingdom was made to the nation [My emphasis.] . . . . Remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit comes by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In connection with the Jews, baptism was a condition [My emphasis.]. There is no such condition for Gentiles. The case of Cornelius and those who were assembled in his house to whom Peter preached the Gospel, illustrates this fully. He had not mentioned a word about baptism for the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. When he had declared that through "His Name" whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins, his address was cut short; "the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the Word" (chapter x:44). This clearly proves that baptism in water has nothing to do with the gift of the Holy Spirit to these believing Gentiles. Water baptism followed in their case.

Finally, a recent attempt to answer the problem by Robert Gromacki appeared in "Confident Living," pp. 10,11. Gromacki presented a solid argument under the titles, "Immediate Context, Greater Context, Ministry of John the Baptist," and "Doctrine of Salvation." However, his argument from "Grammar" is only an argument using grammar. It does not prove what he asserts. He wrote,

The grammar of the verse indicates that only repentance is required to receive remission of sins. Here is my translation of the verse from the Greek, using some extra words to bring out some key differences not observable in the English text: "Repent [you, plural], and let each one [singular] of you be baptized [singular], upon the name of Jesus Christ into the remission of sins, and you will receive [you, plural] the gift of the Holy Spirit." The command to repent and the promise to receive are both plural verbs. The command to be baptized is singular. The imperative ("let each one of you be baptized") is parenthetical. Peter’s actual command was: "Repent . . . upon the name of Jesus Christ into the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Peter gave the audience only one thing to do in order to receive the remission of sins. There was only one direct command: "Repent [you, plural]."

Gromacki’s interpretation is not correct for a number of reasons. To begin with, there were two commands: Repent! Be baptized! They were both plural commands (even though "be baptized" is a singular verb) since the use of e@kasto", each one, distributes the command among the plural you, u&mw'n. e@kasto" is frequently used this way in the Greek New Testament. I will present a few examples:

Luke 2:3 So all went (plural) to be registered, everyone (singular) to his own city.

Acts 2:6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone (singular) heard (plural) them speak in his own language.

Acts 2:8 "And how is it that we hear (plural), each (singular) in our own (plural) language in which we were born?

1 Cor 14:26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together (plural), each (singular) of you has (singular) a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

2 Cor 5:10 For we (plural) must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each (singular) one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Phil 2:4 Let each (singular) of you look out (plural) not only for his (taV e&autw'n, plural) own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Heb 8:11 "None (singular) of them (supplied) shall teach (plural) his (singular) neighbor, and none (singular) his (singular) brother, saying (singular), ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know (plural) Me, from the least (singular) of them (plural) to the greatest (singular) of them (plural).

Rev 20:13 And they were judged (plural), each one (singular) according to his (plural) works.

Next, his translation was not accurate. The following is the Greek text according to the United Bible Societies followed by the NKJV. Acts 2:38 Petros de (Then Peter) pros autous (|faysin| said to them), metanoaysate (Repent, plural), kai (and) baptisthayto (let be baptized, singular) hekastos (each) humon (of you, plural) epi toi onomati Iaysou Cristou (in the name of Jesus Christ) eis (for) afesin (remission) ton hamartion (of the sins) humon (of you, plural); kai laympsesthe (and you, plural, shall receive) tayn dorean tou hagiou pneumatos (the gift of the Holy Spirit).

Finally, although Gromacki teaches Greek, he seems to be unaware that a partitive genitive occurs with hekastos in this passage. Blass, Debrunner and Funk state, "The partitive genitive or the genitive of the divided whole . . . . is exclusively used with hekastos." pas (all) before an anarthrous substantive means everyone (not, each one, like hekastos, but anyone).

Therefore, by taking the natural meaning of this passage, we see that water baptism was essential, at that time, for the remission of sins. This requirement fits right into the other passages which show that water baptism was an imposed condition for salvation under the covenant of circumcision.

After Paul was seized in the temple by the Jewish mob and taken into custody by the Roman commander, he was allowed to speak to the violent mob on the way into the barracks. He used the opportunity to recount his conversion. He spoke of "a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there." He related how Ananias had told him about his apostolic commission from God. What method of salvation did Ananias present to Paul? Ananias commanded, "Now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Ananias told Paul the only message that he knew, the message of Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38, the circumcision gospel with its baptism condition.

In spite of this, we can see that important changes are being revealed to man. One of the most important facts of all should be highlighted. Water baptism would be imposed on Israel until the time of reformation (Heb. 9:10-13) when Christ would establish the kingdom for Israel (Acts 3:21 with Acts 1:6). Therefore, from the beginning of John’s ministry, through the time of Christ’s death and Ascension, to the time that Israel was temporarily set aside, we find that water baptism was essential for salvation.

However, the first dramatic change took place on Pentecost in Acts 2. There, after he submitted to water baptism, a believer would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). So, for the first time, there were two baptisms, water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism.

Next, the Apostle Paul was converted in Acts 9. A comparison of Acts 22:13 and 26:18 appears to indicate that Paul was saved when he received his sight, just as the Gentiles to whom he was sent would be saved upon receiving spiritual sight. Paul received his sight before he was baptized at Ananias’ command.

More sensational events followed the salvation of Paul. Recall that when God separated Israel from the nations as His chosen people, He imposed upon them a designation between clean and unclean animals (Lev. 20:23-26). Now, in a vision to Peter, God abrogated the distinction between clean and unclean animals in order to show that He had demoted Israel from their chosen people status (Acts 10:9-16). However, God did not reveal to Peter the unity and equality of Jew and Gentile in the new man, the body of Christ. Nor did He show him other aspects of the great secret He would reveal in time to Paul. Further, He did not show Peter the new method of salvation by faith alone apart from works. Peter simply adapted the gospel of the circumcision to his Gentile audience: "But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (Acts 10:35). This was the same gospel of faith plus works and endurance for salvation which Christ taught (Acts 10:34-42; John 15:6).

Second, the Holy Spirit showed that water baptism was no longer necessary for salvation after the body of Christ started with Paul’s conversion in Acts 9. This was done dramatically when He fell on all who heard the word while Peter was still preaching, before Peter would command them to be water baptized (Acts 10:44,45). The Holy Spirit’s work here became the sign that would convince the circumcision believers that God had opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles. The dispensational boundary was Paul’s conversion in Acts 9. There, we saw that Paul was sent to the Gentiles, kings and Israel.

Third, the order of the baptisms was reversed. Now, Peter commanded water baptism after Holy Spirit baptism. Now, the Holy Spirit baptism was the one necessary for salvation. Water baptism became secondary for the first time. We’re not even sure that God wanted these new Christians baptized. Peter did a number of things here only because the Lord had previously commanded him to do them. Why did these changes take place? When Paul was converted, God committed to him a new stewardship, the dispensation of the mystery, and a new gospel, the uncircumcision gospel, the gospel of the grace of God.

However, when Paul was sent out on his missionary journeys, we find that he baptized at least Crispus, Gaius, Stephanas’ household, Lydia and her household, and the jailer and his household. Why did he baptize these people? We don’t know for sure, but since Ananias commanded him to be baptized, I think, he, being a good Jew, carried on the practice. With the exception of the Philippian jailer, we can establish that all of the people Paul baptized were Jews. The jailer also could have been a Jew. Here’s why. Paul most likely observed dietary customs so he would not offend the Jews he was witnessing to, who were still observing the law. Zealous Jews, the ones Paul witnessed to first in every town, would not eat with a Gentile. That would be the case even in an instance like Paul’s. Paul knew that legalistic Jews would not eat with a Gentile even if he was the jailer who had released him from prison. Remember how Peter acted later when he came down to Antioch? Therefore, the jailer could have been a Jew.

Paul circumcised Timothy shortly before he wrote the epistle to the Galatians. Yet, he severely criticized those who were being influenced by the Judaizers who wanted them to be circumcised for salvation. Later, he even became ceremonially purified and paid for the sacrifices for four men who had a Jewish vow as well as himself. Yet, Paul had already written Galatians, Thessalonians, Corinthians, and Romans. He knew he was not under the law. But God was in the process of showing Israel they had been set aside.

There were other things Paul did, recorded in Acts, which passed away. These things had to do with Israel. But Paul did not address each thing explicitly and say it passed away. Some of these things were: raising the dead, exorcism, healing the sick, being bit by a viper without being harmed. They would cease just as baptism would cease. These signs were related to Israel. God would issue a final declaration showing that Israel had been set aside in Acts 28:28.

Soon, Paul learned that water baptism was not part of his commission (1 Cor. 1:17), and he no longer baptized. But we must remember that baptism was a vital part of the circumcision apostles’ commission (Mat. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-18). After Paul’s ministry began, he was inspired to write to the Corinthians, "By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). So, even in the dispensation of grace there were two baptisms for a while. Then, we see that as physical circumcision gives way to spiritual circumcision, "made without hands," in spite of Acts 16:1-3, water baptism gives way to spiritual baptism, "through the faith of the operation of God" (Col. 2:11,12), in spite of Acts 16:15,31-34, and 1 Cor. 1:14-16.

Why did water baptism give way to spiritual baptism? It was because God set Israel aside (Rom. 11:11,25; Acts 28:28) in Acts 7 when Christ stood in judgment (Isa. 3:13) at the stoning of Stephen. Part of Paul’s ministry had been to show Israel that they had been set aside. This is why the Corinthian church spoke in tongues. One wall of their meeting place was contiguous with the Jewish synagogue. They spoke in tongues in judgment upon the unbelieving Jews next door in fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 28 (1 Cor. 14:21,22).

God used Paul to pronounce to the Jews in Rome that Israel had been set aside. This occurred in Acts 28:28. After this, the baptisms imposed on Israel, being fleshly ordinances (Heb. 9:10-13), were set aside until God would resume dealing with Israel in the tribulation.

For instance, baptism will be necessary for salvation when Peter’s epistles are again directly applicable in the tribulation period. We must look at 1 Peter 3:20,21 closely. Verse 20 shows us that the ark and the flood of water were a type. Peter then wrote, "There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism." Yes, baptism "now saves us." Then he explains away the possible confusion that the water baptism would be for the removal of the outward filth of the body as in Mark 7:3-5. This outward ritual of 1 Peter 3 was essential to perform the inner cleansing of sin in accordance with the principles God set down for the covenant people in Numbers 19.

From the time of Israel’s fall in Acts 7, the book of Acts relates how Israel was shown more and more that they had been set aside by God. Let me reiterate. This is why the Corinthian church spoke in tongues so much. The church "bordered on," was "contiguous to," the Jewish synagogue. The Gentiles’ speaking in tongues was God’s judgment upon unbelieving Jews next door (Please read 1 Cor. 14:22 in light of Isaiah 28).

But, what about the traditions Paul delivered to those in Corinth and Thessalonica? Wasn’t baptism one of the traditions he gave them? Let’s see. In 1 Corinthians 11:2, Paul wrote, "Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions as I delivered them to you." In 1 Corinthians 11:23 he wrote, "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread." And in 15:3, "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." In this same letter he had already written about Apollos and himself, "Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other" (1 Cor. 4:6). I repeat, "That you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written." Should we heed this admonition here? We know what Paul wrote about baptism (1 Cor. 1:17; 12:13). In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, he wrote. "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle." We see from this that Paul either taught the Thessalonians or wrote them the traditions to hold. Water baptism is not recorded in either epistle. Further, Acts does not record that Paul taught water baptism either. We can’t go beyond what is written. That’s dangerous. And in 2 Thessalonians 3:6, he wrote, "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us." What did he deliver to them? How did he deliver it? He tells us in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 that he delivered the traditions by word or epistle. We can see some of the things he explicitly delivered. They are the Lord’s supper, and the gospel of 15:3-11. Apart from these we can only speculate.

We shouldn’t say the traditions he delivered to them were his actions. Paul had not attained perfection. He was imperfect in his actions, but his epistles were inspired. Remember, even though it was under intense pressure from James, nevertheless, we can’t get around it. Paul followed the law in Acts 21. We must also remember that some of his actions changed with further revelation as God showed that He was temporarily finished with His people, Israel. Remember, Paul’s exhortation was for them to follow him as he followed Christ, not in his human frailty.

Although he baptized some in his early ministry, we must remember that Ananias had commanded him to be baptized himself to wash away his sins. But God gave him further revelations. One was 1 Corinthians 1:17 "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect." Sure, the context shows there was division, but would Paul really let that affect him if he still practiced baptism? Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6 again. No, Paul would tell them to withdraw from a person rather than deny a true teaching that was still in effect. Baptism was not part of his message, and we have no scripture which says he recommended it, encouraged it, taught it, or commanded it. Not one.

Finally, at the end of the book of Acts, Israel was shown for the final time that they had been set aside. This happened when Paul spoke in judgment quoting Isaiah 6:9,10. After this judgment was pronounced, Paul was inspired to write Ephesians. In it he wrote, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4:4,5). One baptism? If there is only one baptism, which one is it? Is it water or Holy Spirit? It is Holy Spirit! Why? Because God has suspended the use of water baptism. It has been done away with because God is through with Israel for the time being. Now there is only one program. It has to do with spiritual things, not carnal. So, today there is one baptism. We, who have trusted in Christ, are baptized into the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit baptizes us into Christ’s body. That baptism identifies us with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-8). Water baptism has been set aside because God has set aside Israel.

- Bob Hill