What is Baptism?
Baptism is a picture of salvation in two ways:
Baptism shows the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus: Jesus lived a perfect life (as the person is standing before baptism). Jesus died for you and was buried (as the person goes beneath the water). Three days later Jesus rose from the dead (as the person comes up out of the water).
Baptism is also a picture of what Jesus has done in the life of a believer: It shows that we were dead in our sins (as the person is standing before baptism). When the person received Christ, he died to himself (as the person goes beneath the water). And just as Jesus rose from the dead, we have been raised to a new life in Christ (as the person comes up out of the water.).
In Romans 6:4 the Bible says,
“We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life”.
On my finger I have a wedding ring. What does this ring tell you about me? This ring tells the world that I’m married. But what if I take it off? Am I still married? Absolutely. The ring doesn’t marry me. It just tells everyone that I’ve already been married. In the same way, baptism doesn’t save you. It just tells the world that you’ve already been saved. This ring is a symbol that I’m married and baptism is a symbol that Jesus has saved you.
But baptism is more than a symbol. It is a spiritual act of obedience. Even Jesus, in obedience to His father, set an example for us in being baptized.
A young man came to me one day. He told me about how he was saved when he was a child and explained that he wanted to follow and live for Christ but it seemed like he was hitting a brick wall. He said, “For some reason, I feel like there is an anchor to my relationship with God. I want to grow but I feel like something is holding me back. Like I can’t go any further until something else happens. I don’t understand.”
I encouraged him to spend time talking and listening to the Lord in prayer and to seek God in Scripture. When God speaks, He doesn’t speak with a muted voice. He speaks to be heard. He is not the author of confusion but a clear and guiding Light.
He came back to me a week later. “I got it!,” he said. “The Lord showed me that although I have been saved for all these years, I never followed Him in baptism because I was scared as a child. I don’t think God is going to bless my relationship with Him until I am fully obedient. I can’t follow Him all the way until first I follow Him in every way.”
Finally, baptism is a symbol of repentance from sin. Throughout Scripture baptism and repentance went hand-in-hand. Even before Jesus began his ministry, John offered baptism as picture of repentance from sin. For us it is a picture of a person turning from sin and being “washed” new in Christ. There is nothing spiritually cleansing about the water. The water is just water. It is the “blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
What about Acts 2:38? Must a Person be Baptized to be Saved?
Acts 2:38 says, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
First, every verse of Scripture is interpreted by the whole of Scripture. There are many people who fall into great trouble because they try to build a theology on one verse instead of looking at what the Bible teaches on a subject throughout the entire Bible. The Bible is very clear that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9), which would include baptism. This is shown to us even in the criminal on the cross to whom Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Yet this man was not baptized.
A man told me one day, “Yes, but that was an exception.” An exception? Really? Or a rationalization?
Consider all the places in Scripture where salvation is taught…without any mention of baptism. And then we have Acts 2:38 where it seems that baptism and salvation are placed side-by-side. So do we reinterpret the hundreds of Scripture passages where baptism is not mentioned or do we dig deeper into Acts 2:38 to discover its context and meaning?
Many people struggle with this concept because they read Scripture for the purpose of making the Bible fit with what they already believe (or want to believe), and what they have been taught and told. But you don’t read Scripture through the lens of your pre-existing beliefs and experiences. You pull the truth out of Scripture like lens through which you can now clearly and correctly interpret pre-existing beliefs and experiences through the truth of God’s Word.
So let’s take a deeper look at Acts 2:38. In context, Peter is preaching to the people who have recently crucified Jesus. Some have suggested that he equated baptism and salvation together because in their mindset baptism was so closely tied to repentance. Both with John the Baptist and Jesus, people were baptized to show the repentance from sin. So, in his mind and in theirs, repentance and baptism were a natural pair. It would have been natural to speak both together. This might be true to the context of their thinking but it’s also an assumption. So let’s dig deeper.
Most of the New Testament was originally written in the Greek language and you don’t need to be a Greek scholar to take a look at the original and to examine the words in context of how they were used throughout the whole of the Bible.
The Amplified Bible tries to pull out as many of the English definitions for the original Greek words and translates this verse as:
And Peter said to them, “Repent [change your old way of thinking, turn from your sinful ways, accept and follow Jesus as the Messiah] and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ because of the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Read that again. Suddenly, when you begin to dig deeper into the original text, things begin to grow clearer. The difference surrounds the Greek word eis, translated by many in Acts 2:38 as “for” but translated more clearly above as “because of”.
At this point, I am going to defer to an article that gives a much more technical explanation. I am including this because since so many try to build a theology from this verse, I want to give you as much information as possible concerning it but I also don’t want you to believe what I am writing just because I am writing it. Study it for yourself. At the end of this article, I am including every verse in Scripture where the word “baptism” or “baptize” is used. Study where baptism is mentioned and where it is not. Don’t read your beliefs into the Bible. Pull the truth out of it. Read, pray and listen. Seek the truth and you will find it.
Here’s part of the article (in italics below) from GotQuestions.org:
In both Greek and English, there are many possible usages of the word “for.”
As an example, when one says “Take two aspirin for your headache,” it is obvious to everybody that it does not mean “take two aspirin in order to get your headache,” but instead to “take two aspirin because you already have a headache.” There are three possible meanings of the word “for” that might fit the context of Acts 2:38: 1–“in order to be, become, get, have, keep, etc.,” 2—“because of, as the result of,” or 3—“with regard to.” Since any one of the three meanings could fit the context of this passage, additional study is required in order to determine which one is correct.
We need to start by looking back to the original language and the meaning of the Greek word eis. This is a common Greek word (it is used 1774 times in the New Testament) that is translated many different ways. Like the English word “for” it can have several different meanings. So, again, we see at least two or three possible meanings of the passage, one that would seem to support that baptism is required for salvation and others that would not. While both the meanings of the Greek word eis are seen in different passages of Scripture, such noted Greek scholars as A.T. Robertson and J.R. Mantey have maintained that the Greek preposition eis in Acts 2:38 should be translated “because of” or “in view of,” and not “in order to,” or “for the purpose of.”
One example of how this preposition is used in other Scriptures is seen in Matthew 12:41 where the word eis communicates the “result” of an action. In this case it is said that the people of Nineveh “repented at the preaching of Jonah” (the word translated “at” is the same Greek word eis). Clearly, the meaning of this passage is that they repented “because of’” or “as the result of” Jonah’s preaching. In the same way, it would be possible that Acts 2:38 is indeed communicating the fact that they were to be baptized “as the result of” or “because” they already had believed and in doing so had already received forgiveness of their sins (John 1:12; John 3:14-18; John 5:24; John 11:25-26; Acts 10:43; Acts 13:39; Acts 16:31; Acts 26:18; Romans 10:9; Ephesians 1:12-14). This interpretation of the passage is also consistent with the message recorded in Peter’s next two sermons to unbelievers where he associates the forgiveness of sins with the act of repentance and faith in Christ without even mentioning baptism (Acts 3:17-26; Acts 4:8-12).
In addition to Acts 2:38, there are three other verses where the Greek word eis is used in conjunction with the word “baptize” or “baptism.” The first of these is Matthew 3:11, “baptize you with water for repentance.” Clearly the Greek word eis cannot mean “in order to get” in this passage. They were not baptized “in order to get repentance,” but were “baptized because they had repented.” The second passage is Romans 6:3 where we have the phrase “baptized into (eis) His death.” This again fits with the meaning “because of” or in “regard to.” The third and final passage is 1 Corinthians 10:2 and the phrase “baptized into (eis) Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Again, eis cannot mean “in order to get” in this passage because the Israelites were not baptized in order to get Moses to be their leader, but because he was their leader and had led them out of Egypt. If one is consistent with the way the preposition eis is used in conjunction with baptism, we must conclude that Acts 2:38 is indeed referring to their being baptized “because” they had received forgiveness of their sins. Some other verses where the Greek preposition eis does not mean “in order to obtain” are Matthew 28:19; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 19:3; 1 Corinthians 1:15; and 12:13.
The grammatical evidence surrounding this verse and the preposition eis are clear that while both views on this verse are well within the context and the range of possible meanings of the passage, the majority of the evidence is in favor that the best possible definition of the word “for” in this context is either “because of” or “in regard to” and not “in order to get.” Therefore, Acts 2:38, when interpreted correctly, does not teach that baptism is required for salvation.
Besides the precise meaning of the preposition translated “for” in this passage, there is another grammatical aspect of this verse to carefully consider—the change between the second person and third person between the verbs and pronouns in the passage. For example, in Peter’s commands to repent and be baptized the Greek verb translated “repent” is in the second person plural while the verb “be baptized,” is in the third person singular. When we couple this with the fact that the pronoun “your” in the phrase “forgiveness of your sins” is also second person plural, we see an important distinction being made that helps us understand this passage. The result of this change from second person plural to third person singular and back would seem to connect the phrase “forgiveness of your sins” directly with the command to “repent.” Therefore, when you take into account the change in person and plurality, essentially what you have is “You (plural) repent for the forgiveness of your (plural) sins, and let each one (singular) of you be baptized (singular).” Or, to put it in a more distinct way: “You all repent for the forgiveness of all of your sins, and let each one of you be baptized.”
Study It For Yourself:
Topical Search: Baptize / Baptism
The following shows every verse in the Bible that uses the words “baptize” and “baptism”.*
Matthew 3:1 – In those days, John the Baptizer came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying,
Matthew 3:6 – They were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
Matthew 3:7 – But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Matthew 3:11 – I indeed baptize you in water for repentance, but he who comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 3:13 – Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.
Matthew 3:14 – But John would have hindered him, saying, “I need to bebaptized by you, and you come to me?”
Matthew 3:16 – Jesus, when he was baptized, went up directly from the water: and behold, the heavens were opened to him. He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming on him.
Matthew 11:11 – Most certainly I tell you, among those who are born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptizer; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.
Matthew 11:12 – From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.
Matthew 14:2 – and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptizer. He is risen from the dead. That is why these powers work in him.”
Matthew 14:8 – She, being prompted by her mother, said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptizer.”
Matthew 16:14 – They said, “Some say John the Baptizer, some, Elijah, and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”
Matthew 17:13 – Then the disciples understood that he spoke to them of John the Baptizer.
Matthew 20:22 – But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and bebaptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to him, “We are able.”
Matthew 20:23 – He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with, but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it is for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
Matthew 21:25 – The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?” They reasoned with themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’
Matthew 28:19 – Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Mark 1:4 – John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching the baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins.
Mark 1:5 – All the country of Judea and all those of Jerusalem went out to him. They were baptized by him in the Jordan river, confessing their sins.
Mark 1:8 – I baptized you in water, but he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”
Mark 1:9 – In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
Mark 6:14 – King Herod heard this, for his name had become known, and he said, “John the Baptizer has risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.”
Mark 6:24 – She went out, and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” She said, “The head of John the Baptizer.”
Mark 6:25 – She came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptizer on a platter.”
Mark 8:28 – They told him, “John the Baptizer, and others say Elijah, but others: one of the prophets.”
Mark 10:38 – But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
Mark 10:39 – They said to him, “We are able.” Jesus said to them, “You shall indeed drink the cup that I drink, and you shall be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with;
Mark 11:30 – The baptism of John—was it from heaven, or from men? Answer me.”
Mark 16:16 – He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who disbelieves will be condemned.
Luke 3:3 – He came into all the region around the Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for remission of sins.
Luke 3:7- He said therefore to the multitudes who went out to be baptized by him, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Luke 3:12 – Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what must we do?”
Luke 3:16 – John answered them all, “I indeed baptize you with water, but he comes who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to loosen. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire,
Luke 3:21 – Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus also had been baptized, and was praying. The sky was opened,
Luke 7:20 – When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptizer has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you he who comes, or should we look for another?’”
Luke 7:28 – “For I tell you, among those who are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptizer, yet he who is least in God’s Kingdom is greater than he.”
Luke 7:29 – When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they declared God to be just, having been baptized with John’sbaptism.
Luke 7:30 – But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the counsel of God, not being baptized by him themselves.
Luke 7:33 – For John the Baptizer came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’
Luke 9:19 – They answered, “‘John the Baptizer,’ but others say, ‘Elijah,’ and others, that one of the old prophets is risen again.”
Luke 12:50 – But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!
Luke 20:4 – the baptism of John, was it from heaven, or from men?”
John 1:25 – They asked him, “Why then do you baptize, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”
John 1:26 – John answered them, “I baptize in water, but among you stands one whom you don’t know.
John 1:28 – These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
John 1:31 – I didn’t know him, but for this reason I came baptizing in water: that he would be revealed to Israel.”
John 1:33 – I didn’t recognize him, but he who sent me to baptize in water, he said to me, ‘On whomever you will see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’
John 3:22 – After these things, Jesus came with his disciples into the land of Judea. He stayed there with them, and baptized.
John 3:23 – John also was baptizing in Enon near Salim, because there was much water there. They came, and were baptized.
John 3:26 – They came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, the same baptizes, and everyone is coming to him.”
John 4:1 – Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John
John 4:2 – (although Jesus himself didn’t baptize, but his disciples),
John 10:40 – He went away again beyond the Jordan into the place where John was baptizing at first, and there he stayed.
Acts 1:5 – For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Acts 1:22 – beginning from the baptism of John, to the day that he was received up from us, of these one must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
Acts 2:38 – Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:41 – Then those who gladly received his word were baptized. There were added that day about three thousand souls.
Acts 8:12 – But when they believed Philip preaching good news concerning God’s Kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ, they werebaptized, both men and women.
Acts 8:13 – Simon himself also believed. Being baptized, he continued with Philip. Seeing signs and great miracles occurring, he was amazed.
Acts 8:16 – for as yet he had fallen on none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of Christ Jesus
Acts 8:36 – As they went on the way, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Behold, here is water. What is keeping me from being baptized?”
Acts 8:38 – He commanded the chariot to stand still, and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and hebaptized him.
Acts 9:18 – Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he received his sight. He arose and was baptized.
Acts 10:37 – you yourselves know what happened, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;
Acts 10:47 – “Can anyone forbid these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just like us.”
Acts 10:48 – He commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay some days.
Acts 11:16 – I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.’
Acts 13:24 – before his coming, when John had first preached the baptism of repentance to Israel.
Acts 16:15- When she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and stay.” So she persuaded us.
Acts 16:33 – He took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was immediately baptized, he and all his household.
Acts 18:8 – Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his house. Many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized.
Acts 18:25 – This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John.
Acts 19:3 – He said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.”
Acts 19:4 – Paul said, “John indeed baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe in the one who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.”
Acts 19:5 – When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Acts 22:16 – Now why do you wait? Arise, be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’
Romans 6:3 – Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Romans 6:4 – We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.
1 Corinthians 1:13 – Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?
1 Corinthians 1:14 – I thank God that I baptized none of you, except Crispus and Gaius,
1 Corinthians 1:15 – so that no one should say that I had baptized you into my own name.
1 Corinthians 1:16 – (I also baptized the household of Stephanas; besides them, I don’t know whether I baptized any other.)
1 Corinthians 1:17 – For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Good News —not in wisdom of words, so that the cross of Christ wouldn’t be made void.
1 Corinthians 10:2 – and were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
1 Corinthians 12:13 – For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all given to drink into one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 15:29 – Or else what will they do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead aren’t raised at all, why then are they baptized for the dead?
Galatians 3:27 – For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Ephesians 4:5 – one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
Colossians 2:12 – having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Hebrews 6:2 – of the teaching of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
1 Peter 3:21 – This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you—not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
* There may be other reference to baptism or being baptized in Scripture that don’t use these words.
Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are from the
World English Bible (WEB). If you are using a digital version of this book, most devices will allow you to connect each verse to Biblegateway.com so you can read each passage in context and change to different translations.
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