A Question I Was Asked:

In Acts Why Did Luke Record Three Different Answers When People Asked How They Could Be Saved?

In Acts why did Luke record three different answers when people asked how they could be saved?

UK Apologetics Reply:

He didn't - it's the same answer!

Luke did not give three different answers at all (as a few have suggested), but answered according to people's understanding. Have not all of us sometimes answered a question in differing ways according to the level of understanding of those whom we were talking to? Of course we have! If I, for example, am asked some question on Christian theology by, firstly, a child, secondly, by one knowing absolutely nothing of the teachings of the Bible and, thirdly, by somebody who had also spent many years studying the Bible, would I not answer these questions in a differing, or varying fashion? Of course I would answer such questions differently and we all do this all the time.

I have heard this Luke argument once before and it shows a complete lack of understanding of Scripture. The usual (not very well-informed) argument goes something like this: three times in the book of Acts (a book put together by Luke, of course), the physician records non-Christians asking what they needed to do in order to be saved, and three times a different answer is given. In fact, of course, as already pointed out, it is just not true. Undoubtedly it is a matter of looking at people and how they stood at that moment in time, then telling them what they needed to do next, or to focus upon. Let us look at these three occasions:

1. The Jailer.
The heathen jailer from Philippi asked Paul and Silas, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?," and was told: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved." (Acts 16:30-31).

This was the fullest and most complete answer and here they (Paul and Silas) were addressing a man with no knowledge of Christ, nor knowledge of the basic teachings found in the old covenant. We are only saved in Christ - end of story. It's a full answer, philosophically, but it's also a starting point, one would want to know a little more.

2. On Pentecost.
some Jews asked the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" and were instructed to "repent and be baptized." (Acts 2:37-38).

Some very basic knowledge must have been present on this occasion. In fact, this response was given in a situation in which a fair bit of teaching had already been given to those present. Let us look at more of the fuller context:

36. "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah." 37. When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38. Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:36-39).

So "repent and be baptized" was given to the Jews in a situation in which there was more teaching besides these few words and to a people who probably already understood certain things from the old covenant.

3. The Saul Example.
Saul (later renamed Paul - Acts 13:9) asked Jesus, Who had appeared to Saul on his way to Damascus, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" (9:6; 22:10). After being told to go into Damascus to find out what he "must do" to be saved, Ananias, the Lord's servant, instructed Saul thus:

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

Again, Paul was being instructed from where he stood at that moment in time. By now he was repentant, he had actually - supernaturally - met Jesus, the next part (to demonstrate his willingness to follow this path), was to be baptized. Of course any comprehensive study of Christian teaching shows that baptism, of itself, cannot save anyone but one undergoes it to demonstate before God - and before all others - one's total commitment to totally change one's life. It is also symbolic of 'washing away one's sins.'

On all these three occasions people were at somewhat differing points of understanding what the Christian Gospel is all about. The jailer at Philippi was told to believe in Christ, because he had not yet heard and believed the saving message of Jesus (Acts 16:31-32; Romans 10:17). The Bible reveals that after Paul and Silas "spoke the word of the Lord" to the jailer and his household, they believed and were "immediately" baptized (Acts 16:33).

Secondly, the Jews - and others - who had assembled on that first Christian Pentecost had already heard Peter's sermon when certain of the Jews asked their question about salvation (Acts 2:37). Peter knew that they already believed, and that such belief came from hearing the message he preached (Romans 10:17). The Jews had already passed the point of first believing and were told to repent and be baptized in case they had not fully understood the importance of full repentance, and God's desire that - wherever we can - we should undergo baptism, witnessing our desire to live changed lives before God and others.

Finally, if we look at Saul (soon to be renamed Paul), he was already a penitent believer in Christ by the time he came into contact with Ananias. So Saul did not need to be told to believe or repent, since he had already done so. He knew the Lord existed, having spoken directly with Him on the road to Damascus, and he expressed a remorseful and repentant attitude by praying to God and fasting for three days (Acts 9:9,11). Saul now just needed to be baptized (Acts 22:16).

A Final Point

It is incorrect to believe that when the Bible records just a few words passing between individuals in a conversation, then that is necessarily all that is said on any particular occasion - it might not be! We should not be naive about these things! What is recorded for us is what it is important for us to know, yet may well not be the total sum of the words spoken in any biblically-recorded conversation.

Robin A. Brace. March 14th, 2016.