During the first gospel sermon, some of the Jews assembled in Jerusalem realize they have murdered the Son of God. They cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37, NKJV). Peter replies, “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).
Simply stated, we must repent and be baptized in order to have our sins forgiven (cf. Acts 22:16). The charge is made that 2:38 means we should be baptized because we are already saved, that baptism is an outward evidence of an inward grace. They claim that “for” (Greek word “eis”) really means “because of” and that we should be baptized only after we have been saved.
We discussed how this cannot be true for the following reasons /1 First, a simple reading in English denies this interpretation. Second, no credible translation of the New Testament translates “eis” as “because of.” Third, the text ties repentance and baptism together for the remission of sins. To say that baptism was because of the remission of sins is also to claim repentance is after the remission of sins. Fourth, they asked, “what shall we do” in 2:37 and in 2:38 their sins were remitted. If 2:38 means they were already saved then how can someone prove they were saved between 2:37 and 2:38?
We have established that 2:38 teaches that baptism is for the remission of sins. This fits into the context of the New Testament as a whole.
John the Baptist was the messenger who came to prepare the way for Jesus (Malachi 3:1; Matthew 3:1-6; Mark 1:1-7). Mark 1:4 says, “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Luke 3:3 also uses the same phrase, “preaching a baptism for the remission of sins.” The phrase “for the remission of sins” is the same in Greek and English as in Acts 2:38 and the use of “eis” is exactly the same and is “for” the remission of sins.
As Jesus was preparing to return to heaven, he gave instructions to the apostles as they prepared to take the gospel to the world. He said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved: But he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15,16). Belief precedes baptism, so if we fail to perform the first part, we obviously will not do the second part. Therefore, it would be redundant to include “baptism” in the second phrase of 16:16. The import of the passage remains that belief and baptism are required for one’s sins to be remitted.
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.” Thayer, the Greek scholar, writes, “those who have gone down into the baptismal bath are said to have washed themselves, or to have washed away their sins, i.e. to have been cleansed from their sins.” /2 Bauer concludes it means, “to wash away one’s sins.” /3
We are saved by grace as Ephesians 2:8,9 teaches. /4 Moreover, the blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins (Hebrews 9:11-14; 1 Peter 1:18,19). Yet, our sins are washed away when we are baptized, as we have noted in Acts 2:38 and other passages (cf.1 Peter 3:21). We are saved when we believe, but only if we are washed in the waters of baptism for the remission of sins. Faith in Christ will lead to obedience to His word.
2/ Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 65.
3/ Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Christian Literature, p. 96.
Does Acts 2:38 agree with the rest of the New Testament on baptism?