Acts 2:38 — Satan’s Favorite Verse?

While surfing the internet for various viewpoints regarding baptism and salvation, I discovered the following link:

http://www.biblebelievers.com/jmelton/acts2.html

Below, you will find this article again, this time with my response woven into it. I tried to send it to him in an email, but all I got was a failure notice. I was a bit disappointed, but decided to share the following here.

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“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)

The above verse of scripture is a favorite among many religious groups. One can hear it several times on Sunday morning radio programs, as well as from the pulpits of numerous groups, and it can be found in much religious literature. The verse is a favorite because, on the surface, it seemingly states that one must be baptized in order to be saved, and without baptism one is not saved. So, those who believe that water baptism is essential for salvation make it a regular habit of using Acts 2:38 as scriptural support.

The problem is that Acts 2:38 isn’t the only verse in the Bible which deals with salvation. (True — it certainly isn’t.) While many claim to “speak where the scriptures speak and remain silent where the scriptures are silent,” they practically ignore most of the New Testament teaching on salvation. (That is hardly the case. Proponents of water baptism can find a plethora of verses, not to mention Old Testament types, that point to baptism and its relation to salvation.) The only verses that such false teachers quote and reference are the ones they feel they can use to promote their “water gospel.” (Which is every single verse in the Bible that relates to salvation.) The fact is that most of what the New Testament says about salvation doesn’t include baptism at all! (John 5:24, John 11:25-26, John 14:6, Romans 4:5, Romans 10:9-13, Eph. 2:8-9, etc.), (Many verses that speak of belief and salvation don’t mention repentance — does that mean we shouldn’t repent? And there are verses that speak of confessing or repentance that do not mention belief — does this mean we don’t need to believe?) and the few places that do mention water baptism do not include it as part of one’s salvation (then what do you do with Mark 16:16 or I Peter 3:20-21?). Water baptism follows salvation as one of the first steps of obedience for the new believer.

In spite of this obvious truth, the cultists remain steadfast in their heresy, insisting that Acts 2:38 sets forth water baptism as a requirement for salvation. Thus, this verse of scripture has become Satan’s favorite Bible verse (SATAN’S? So if you are baptized, you’ll go to hell?). In fact, many are trusting water baptism alone for the salvation of their souls!  (This is hardly the case. People who believe in water baptism rely on Jesus’ blood, to which they gained access through belief, repentance, confession, and submission to immersion. Without the blood of Jesus, none of these things would have any power.) Indeed, Satan has deceived multitudes by his perversion of Acts 2:38. (Well, your “Satan” has a lot more Scripture to back him than you do.)

Rather than ignore Acts 2:38 by quoting “our favorite verses” instead, it is more appropriate to face this popular verse of scripture and see if the cultists are right in what they claim it teaches.

The Truth about Acts 2:38

First, please notice that verse 38 isn’t the only verse in Acts 2. In Peter’s message, a great deal was said before verse 38 came out of his mouth. In fact, he even told his listeners how to be saved before verse 38! In Acts 2:21, Peter quotes from Joel 2 and says, “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (This is true — if one believes, they will be saved — if they don’t believe, they simply won’t. God has never saved anyone who did not believe.) His words preceding verse 38 were so convicting that his listeners were “pricked in their heart” in verse 37. (They believed and asked, “What shall we do?” This implies that they are terrified of judgment, not relieved that they were safe. “Pricked in the heart” means, terrified, horrified. Would they be feeling these emotions if they were saved? If they were, Peter would have told them they were all okay. But he didn’t. He instead told them what to do.) So, to use verse 38 out of its context causes a misrepresentation of God’s word. (True — but the context actually lends strength to the interpretation.) The verse does not stand alone, and, in fact, a totally different meaning is conveyed when one makes it stand alone.

Another error that many make with Acts 2:38 is the error of assumption. It is assumed that the word “for” must mean “in order to get.” That is, being baptized “for” the remission of sins supposedly means to be baptized “in order to get” remission of sins. However, a closer look at the scriptures will reveal that this isn’t the case at all.

Notice Luke 5:12-14: “And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.” Jesus made this man clean in verse 13, yet in the next verse, verse 14, Jesus tells him to go offer a sacrifice “for thy cleansing” as a “testimony.” Here the word “for” cannot mean “in order to get” because he had already gotten his cleansing in verse 13! It obviously meant “because of” his cleansing. If a man goes to jail “for stealing,” then he goes there “because of” the stealing that he’s already done, not “in order to get” a chance to steal again.

Some like to argue that the Greek word “eis” means “in order to,” but this isn’t always the case. Jesus said in Matthew 12:41, “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at (eis) the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” The Greek word for “at” is “eis.” Does this mean that the men of Nineveh repented “in order to get” the preaching of Jonah? No, they repented “because of” the preaching of Jonah. So, even “the Greek” doesn’t demand the popular interpretation of Acts 2:38. The word “for” can be used different ways, not just one, so it is wrong to assume that it must mean “in order to get” in Acts 2:38.

(Okay, let’s assume you’re right, and that “eis” in this case means “because of” rather than “to the end of”. Consider these points:

  • To command the 3000 to repent and be immersed BECAUSE their sins were already forgiven, Peter would be telling them, not only to be baptized because their sins were forgiven, but to also REPENT of sins that had already been remitted. This, of course, is absurd.
  • It contradicts an obvious fact. It makes Peter command those who asked, “What shall we do?” to be immersed because their sins were already forgiven, while it is an indisputable fact that their sins were NOT yet remitted. In actuality, those who were pierced in the heart with guilt and were asking what to do were trying to learn how to obtain the very remission this interpretation assumes they already had.)

Another factor which is commonly ignored is the JEWISH factor. Every person in Acts 2 is a Mosaic law observing Old Testament Jew. In fact, they are all gathered together to observe a JEWISH FEAST called Pentecost (verse 1). A fair reading of the whole chapter (especially verses 4, 14, and 36) will clearly reveal that no Gentiles (non Jews) are present. Since this involves Jews, it involves a NATION (verse 36!!), not individuals. No one asked, “What must I do to be saved?” The question asked concerned the NATION of Israel: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (verse 37) Not, “What shall I do,” but rather, “What shall WE do?” Acts 2 presents a NATION of people who come to realize that they have murdered their blessed Messiah and they’re asking what THEY must do. It’s a question concerning NATIONAL salvation. Isaiah 66:8 says, “. . . shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” The “nation” is Israel! Romans 11:26 says, “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” Acts 2:38 is dealing with NATIONAL salvation. The Messianic Kingdom is still available to the Jews (until Acts 7:60 when they kill Stephen), so national salvation remains an issue until then.

(Okay, but surely there were more Jews in Israel than the 3000 Peter addressed. Jews killed Jesus. Peter has just convicted the Jews of killing the Son of God. They are horrified at what they have done, and also afraid of the consequences. Wouldn’t you expect something terrible from God if you learned you were guilty of killing His Son? You’d want to know what to do as well.)

This is clear from what follows Acts 7. In Acts 8, an individual from Africa is saved (before baptism) (BEFORE? Really? Then why was the eunuch so eager to be baptized right away? Why did he wait to “go on his way rejoicing” until AFTER he’d been baptized?). In Acts 9, an individual from Asia is saved (before baptism). (Saul believed, and Jesus told him to go into Damascus where he would be told what to do. What did Ananias tell him to do? “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” If his sins had yet to be washed away, after belief and three days of praying, then he was not yet saved. He had to do what Ananias told him what he must do.) In Acts 10, an individual from Europe is saved (before baptism). (The whole point of Acts 10 was to point out that Gentiles had just as much access to salvation as the Jews. Peter, very much biased in favor of the Jews, needed to be shown that these people were just as acceptable to God as Jews. This is why, when the Holy Spirit descended on Cornelius and his household, Peter cried, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Spirit just as we [the apostles] did?” In other words, if God gave them the greater baptism, we should not deny these people the way to salvation. This is also the only place in Scripture where anyone received the Holy Spirit prior to baptism. God was making a point to Peter that He is no respecter of persons.) Why didn’t these individual conversions occur before Acts 7? Because the first seven chapter of Acts deal with Israel (1:6-8; 2:36; 3:12; 4:8-10; 5:31; 6:7-14; 7:1-60). The question of INDIVIDUAL salvation is asked and answered in Acts 16:30-31: “. . . Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (And in verse 33, the jailer and his household were baptized “straightaway”. They lost no time! Why? Because he believed, and wanted to be saved! If he had not believed, he would never have been saved.) Those who fail to make this distinction are guilty of violating II Timothy 2:15 where we are told to RIGHTLY DIVIDE the word of truth. (Remember that.)

The Bible says the gospel is to go to the Jew FIRST (Rom. 1:16), so they are the FIRST to receive the gospel in the book of Acts (chapter 2), but they are not the last to receive it. Acts doesn’t end with chapter 2, so we should be cautious of anyone who develops their doctrine in Acts 2 while practically ignoring the next 26 chapters! (Ah, but proponents of water baptism actively employ the entire book of Acts!) If God didn’t stop in Acts 2, then why does anyone else? Could it be that the later chapters in Acts contain information which the cultists want hidden from us? (Pardon me, but you failed to mention a lot of verses regarding baptism — in context — could it be that there are verses and passages which the “faith-alone” cultists want hidden? Namely, James 2:24 or I Peter 3:20-21 or Romans 6?) Could it be that there are other scriptures in Acts which do not agree with the wording of Acts 2:38? (Not that I’ve found so far.) Could it be that Peter himself, the one preaching in Acts 2:38, says something different when speaking to individual Gentiles like you and me? (Definitely not! It is one way, one salvation, for all men, Jew and Gentile.) One only has to read Acts chapter 10 to get the answer. Peter is preaching again in Acts 10, except only to individual Gentiles, and something very interesting occurs. In Acts 2:38, the Holy Ghost was promised to be given to the converts AFTER they were baptized, yet in Acts 10:44 the Holy Ghost falls upon the Gentiles BEFORE they are baptized! (As I explained, God was making a point to a very prejudiced Peter. This event does not EVER happen again in any of Scripture. In fact, in Acts 19:1-6, believers did not receive the Holy Spirit and its gifts until AFTER they had been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ) Now, Paul tells us in Romans 8:9, ” . . .if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Having God’s Spirit is synonymous with belonging to God or being saved (John 3:6-8), so the Gentiles in Acts 10 were saved BEFORE they were baptized in water. Why don’t the Acts 2:38 cultists ever point this out? Answer: It destroys their perverted doctrine that water baptism is essential for salvation. (Actually, the story of Cornelius supports baptism for the remission of sins.)

The fact is that Acts 2:38 is NOT the “model” plan of salvation, nor are any of the other “water verses” which the cultists use. Only by taking such verses out of their context can one teach such heresy. All of the Bible is true, not just the favorite “proof texts” of the cults (including the “faith-only” cult). Baptism saves no one (I Peter 3:20-21). It only serves as a testimonial picture of the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ AFTER one has believed on Christ (Acts 8:36-38). Paul said in I Corinthians 1:17 that “. . . Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” This “gospel” is defined by Paul in I Corinthians 15:1-4, and it does NOT include water baptism. (Ah, but Paul DID baptize converts, as proven by the previous verses, I Corinthians 1:10-16. His main duty was to preach, while others who accompanied him, such as Peter and Apollos, performed baptisms. You have just taken Scripture out of context to prove a point. A bit hypocritical, no?) The dying thief was not baptized, yet Jesus saved him (Luke 23:42-43) (Jesus, being God, had the power to forgive sins while on earth — and the New Testament and its salvation had not yet been instituted), and John wrote that we are washed in the BLOOD of Christ (Rev. 1:5), not in the water. In fact, the saints in Heaven claim to have gotten there by the blood of Jesus (Rev. 5:9), not by water. By faith in the blood of Jesus Christ one is saved (Rom. 3:25). (True, water has no power in itself. But the obedience of submission to baptism in water for the remission of sins is a clear prerequisite laid down in the very first preaching of the gospel and throughout the epistles. Jesus’ blood is what lends its power to belief, repentance, confession, and baptism.) Water baptism only follows this faith as an outward step of obedience.

Friend, if you have fallen for the water gospel, why not repent of your sin and trust Jesus Christ alone? Acts 10:43 says, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Why not believe on Christ 100% right now and quit trusting something you DO for salvation? (Trusting is something you DO . . . believing is something you DO . . . repenting is something you DO . . . confessing is something you DO . . .to “be baptized” is something you RECEIVE, something to which you SUBMIT! A convert does not baptize himself. He IS BAPTIZED by a Christian. Baptism is the most passive thing in the entire list. You are rejecting something received as a gift from God [through the hands of a Christian] as something which you must do yourself! Don’t you see the irony here?) “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1) Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Romans 10:9-13 says,”That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Why not right now?

Mark 16:16; Romans 10:9-13; Acts 10:43; II Corinthians 7:10; I Peter 3:20-21; Acts 22:16

Which of the above verses is valid, and which of these verses shall we reject? Or, shall we accept them all? Read them carefully in context, and decide.

You do not understand that against which you speak. I believe every single verse in Scripture, including those that teach the heresy of water baptism. Which ones do you believe?

Also:

Which of the following does Mark 16:16 say? Which do you believe?

  • He who does not believe and is baptized will be saved.
  • He who does not believe and is not baptized will be saved.
  • He who believes and is baptized will not be saved.
  • He who believes and is not baptized will be saved.
  • He who believes and is baptized will be saved.


Which of the above is the Word of God? Which is the truth? Which is a fabrication of man?

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6 Responses to “Acts 2:38 — Satan’s Favorite Verse?”

  1. I have not read all of the above (it is quite long) but I do not believe that we are saved by water baptism. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. There is nothing I can do to improve upon the work that Christ did on the cross when He died for my sins.

    All believers should be baptized but we are baptized in response to what God has done for us by saving us from our sins, not to obligate God to wash us of our sins.

    Salvation is by grace through faith and not by our works.

    • Russ, I do not deny that we are saved by faith in Jesus. That is indisputable. But consider what James 2:24 says about “faith alone”. This is the one and only location in the entire Bible that even mentions the concept.

      Baptism is NOT improving upon Christ’s complete work. It is acceptance of that complete work. It is not something we do ourselves, but something we receive and accept — and thus, not a work. It does not obligate God in any way. Baptism is God burying us with Christ, God wiping away our sins with Christ’s blood, and God raising us to walk in newness of life.

      I believe in the grace of God. I believe in the blood of Christ. I believe in repentance. I believe in confession. I believe in faith. I believe in baptism for the remission of sins.

      In order to fully understand the Bible’s true stance on the matter, I challenge you to read my previous postings as well as this one and consider what they say. Feel free to challenge my statements and ask questions. This is not a matter to look away from. Our salvation is a matter we must all understand to the fullest.

  2. Well, I disagree with you that baptism is not a work.

    I was baptized as an infant. I was saved when I was twenty. When I was saved my life completely changed overnight. Immediately I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I could not put down my Bible because the scripture was like a fire in my heart. In one moment God took away all desire for the drugs I had been addicted to for years. I began sharing Christ will my friends and family. However, due to reasons too long to expound here, I was not baptized until I was about 30 years old. Was I in limbo for 10 years?

    He who believes and is baptized will be saved…

    … I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.

    • First off, I do not promote infant baptism. You will be able to see that by paging back through my previous posts. One must believe and be baptized to be saved, not simply baptized. That is a Catholic folly easily dispelled by Scripture.

      In order to fully see my standpoint, please visit my first posting on the topic of baptism: “Faith Alone” (Sola Fide), then continue to browse. Feel free to leave remarks under each of the postings you visit.

      PS: John’s baptism was a baptism in water, unto remission of sins (Mark 1:4), and was a preparation for Christ’s ministry, “making His paths straight”. Jesus later did baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire, in the case of the disciples in the upper room in Acts 2 and in the case of Cornelius in Acts 10. Notice that baptism in the Holy Spirit always produced the gifts of healing, tongues, etc. This was the baptism John referred to in Mark 1:8. Ponder this: On the Day of Pentacost, the first time the gospel had been preached, Peter commanded the multitude to “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins”. Could he have commanded them to be baptized in the Holy Spirit? Of course not! They had no control over the Holy Spirit. God sent the Holy Spirit as He commanded it, not at the will of anyone else. Therefore, Peter was telling them to be baptized IN WATER for the remission of their sins!

      Also, read I Peter 3:20-21. Also read Acts 22. Take your time and let me know what you think.

  3. To command the 3000 to repent and be immersed BECAUSE their sins were already forgiven, Peter would be telling them, not only to be baptized because their sins were forgiven, but to also REPENT of sins that had already been remitted. This, of course, is absurd.
    I do not understand your reasoning; the way I understand it Peter is saying repent and be baptized because your sins have been forgiven.

    • Duane, that is indeed the way this verse is generally understood.

      However, if their sins had already been remitted, then they would have had nothing of which to repent. II Corinthians 2:10 tells us that “godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of”. Thus we know from Peter’s words that the 3000 had yet to repent, and from II Corinthians 2:10 that they would not be saved until they did. Peter could not possibly have meant that their sins were already forgiven if he was telling them to have the repentance of II Corinthians 2:10.

      We also know from Acts 3:19 that repentance comes BEFORE conversion — unless we repent, true conversion is logically and practically impossible. When we convert, our sins are forgiven (Mark 4:12). From this we know that, in Acts 2:38, (1) if the 3000 had yet to repent, they had yet to convert, and (2) if the 3000 had not yet converted, their sins had not yet been remitted.

      That covers the repentance aspect of it in a nutshell. I hope I made sense! 🙂

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