This is one of the most argued about doctrines in Christendom. Is Baptism immersion? Is it sprinkling? Can it be done to infants? Does it save you? I grew up in a movement that said baptism was only for believers and you had to do it to be saved. Their case and point verses are Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21. The main reason that there are so many arguments about baptism is the verses that talk about them are not as clear as one expects at first glance. They need to be looked at as a whole to get a better understanding of the doctrine of baptism.
This is called systematic theology. Hermeneutics plays a key role in gaining a well developed systematic theology. The verses that support the doctrine need to be understood in their grammatical and historical contexts.
So in the book of Acts, Luke wrote to Theophilus to show him what the Holy Spirit did through the apostles to make disciples starting in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the Earth. The surrounding context of the passage is a sermon from Peter to explain why people of different languages were hearing the gospel miraculously in their own languages. The people were cut to the heart that they had crucified their promised Messiah and that He had raised from the dead. They wanted to know what they had to do to be saved from His wrath. Then Peter said, “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.” (ESV). Here are some important things to realize in this verse.
- The word repent means to turn/change one’s mind/heart that results in a change of living. It is in the aorist tense. So it is a one time act that has affects in the future
- Repent is in the aorist active imperative 2nd person and be baptized is in the passive tense. That means that the repentance was the action they needed to do. Be baptized is what they need to do in light of their repentance. So repentance is the primary action that is salvific, baptism is the secondary action it is not salvific. But baptism does need to be done by the repentant believer.
- The word “Eis” in the Greek can mean into, for, in, or because of. In this case it is translated “for”, but should be translated “because of”. They needed to repent and be baptized because Jesus has already given them forgiveness of sins on the cross.
To conclude this verse. What saves people is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Repentance is the primary action people must do in response to this. Baptism is the secondary response. Baptism flows from repentance. This makes sense in light of other passages that show we are saved by grace through faith. Repentance is the other side of the coin of faith. Baptism, the work, demonstrates that we have that faith/repentance. So yes people need to be baptized because of repentance, but, not to save them. It just shows that repentant believers are saved.
So what do we do with the 1 Peter 3:21, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (ESV) Well this verse would make more sense if we translated “baptism” into “immersion”. We are immersed into the body of Christ when we have repentant faith in Jesus Christ. Peter says he is not talking about the washing ritual Christians do to show we are saved when he says, “not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience”.
Yes baptism means immersion. Yes believers should be baptized. No the physical baptism does not save us. Repentant faith in the LORD Jesus Christ is the primary response to salvation. We are saved by the Death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ when he atoned for our sin.
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