Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Those Troubling Baptism Passages: Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

"And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name," Acts 22:16 
“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,'" Acts 2:38 
"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," 1 Peter 3:21

Each of these passages, upon a superficial reading, appear to promote the idea that a mere ritual provides salvation (much like "certain" Pharisees promoted the idea that ritual circumcision provides salvation by initiating Gentiles into the "saved community"in Acts 15).

But is it permissible to read these passages as promoting baptism as necessary (or even integral) to salvation from sins?

The scholars among us would provide an exegesis employing a knowledge of the Greek source text in order to refute such a reading.  And that's certainly important to do....

But there's a simpler way!


It turns out that we have clear proof that Gentiles (and Jews for that matter) are saved NOT by baptism (which comes later as a testimony and petition) but rather by the faith of a repentant heart which has received the free gift of grace as evidenced by the cleansing of the Ruach HaKodesh.  Where is this proof?  It's found in Acts 10 (pay close attention to the sequence of events):

"While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.  And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.  For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days," Acts 10:44-48
Here's the sequence:

(1) they listened to the besorah (Gospel);

(2) their hearts were open to receive this good news that Yeshua had ransomed them from a life of idolatry in order to serve the G-d of Israel and have life eternally;

(3) the Ruach HaKodesh POURED out, immersing them in the true water that washes away sins;

(4) then they immersed in physical water that symbolized the new change that had just occurred.

Notice that these Believers were saved PRIOR to baptism (tevilah) in physical water.

In conclusion, the story of Cornelius provides solid evidence that not only is baptism not necessary for salvation (since salvation occurs prior to baptism) but that Apostles (such as Peter), having witnessed this sequence of events, understood baptism (of the ritual variety) to be a ratificatory act.

Anyone have a different take?


  1. There is something to be said for baptism of fire of the Holy Spirit! There is no subsitute.

    1. To feel the presence of the Ruach HaKodesh--there is indeed no substitute!