A Question I Was Asked:



Three Bible Verses Seem to Say that Baptism Can Save. Can That Be True?








I have always understood that baptism - alone - cannot save anyone, yet three verses in the Bible seem to suggest otherwise. The verses are Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16 and 1 Peter 3:21. What do you say about these verses?



UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, well, first of all we must always remember that all Bible Scriptures on a particular topic must be taken into account and considered in order to arrive at solid Christian teaching and doctrine. Secondly, we must take into account that revelation from God to Man is progressive. Whilst it would be wrong to ignore the lessons of the Old Testament, and we certainly do not do that, a people living under the New Covenant (in other words, Christians), must have a primary focus on the Book of the New Covenant, or the New Testament.

First of all, we need to refute the teaching of Baptismal Regeneration (the teaching that baptism, as performed by an accredited priest, is necessary for salvation), go here to do that. Please ensure that that article is read through carefully. Now, in the light of that, it becomes obvious that, whilst those coming to Christ should be advised to undergo baptism, baptism itself has no power to save. So, having established all of this, let us look at these three Scriptures:

1. Acts 2:38:
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."

The act of obedience is important, new converts should be baptized. However, this is not the same as saying, 'if you are not baptized, you will never receive the Holy Spirit!' In fact, in the New Testament we find several receving the Holy Spirit before baptism! See Acts 10:44-48, for example, as the most obvious example of this. Rather, Luke here simply associates these things together process-wise. However, we must openly profess Christ before others and baptism is one way in which we do that. Openly professing Christ shows that one is utterly sincere about one's calling.

However, before even referring to baptism in Acts 2:38 Peter starts his sentence with, 'repent,' now that is of vital importance because true repentance is granted from heaven; this shows one is truly called. In short, Peter does not say, "be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit," rather, he says, "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." True, heaven-granted repentance leads to the Holy Spirit - baptism alone could never do that, it is just that baptism is part of the advised process.

2. Acts 22:16:
And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.

Admittedly, considered alone (which the Bible expositor should never do), this one verse might indeed give the impression that baptism alone can "wash away sins." However, a deeper knowledge of the New Testament will show one that baptism alone could never do that. However, here it is the analogy of 'washing away dirt' - which we all do every day - which is important. In the same manner, many a pastor baptizing a new convert will use this analogy of one's need to 'go into the water to wash away yours sins,' however, that baptizing minister will usually be well aware that the theology goes much deeper than that and that only Christ's sacrifice truly washes away sins!

However, it is vital to get the full context here which one cannot do by just quoting verse 16. These words were addressed to Paul at his calling. Let us look at this more closely:

"A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him. Then he said: 'The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.'" (Acts 22:12-16).

Paul was carefully selected and called of God for a vital mission. Already called and chosen, he next needed to be baptized. Again, it was - and remains - part of the process.

3. 1 Peter 3:21:
And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also - not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Here Peter simply puts these processes all together. Indeed, this reference fully backs up the point we are making here. Baptism does not save through any 'removal of dirt,' but through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In short, baptism could not save at all except that our Lord gave the instruction on baptism as part of a process showing that one accepts and personally applies His sacrifice to one's own life. However, repentance comes first (too often seemingly forgotten in too much modern evangelism), and it is God Who calls and grants true repentance (John 6:44,65; Acts 5:31; Acts 11:18). So baptism indeed has 'saving' qualities (when one is following the correct process), but this is about faith and obedience, but - separated from this - could have no power to save.

In summation, only the blood of Jesus Christ can save us from our sins. If the specific act of baptism was necessary for salvation countless people in history could not be saved, including most of the saved of the Old Testament, all death-bed confessors and even the repentant thief on the cross!

Robin A. Brace. July 26th, 2015.

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