Twisting Acts 2:38 – The Question of Baptism by Water for Salvation by Craig Branch

acts 238 salvation waterSOURCE: One of the most common methods cult leaders use to establish their false doctrine is to employ segmented text attention. That is, isolating verses which on the surface seem to the novice Bible student, to affirm the cult’s doctrine.

The “doctrine of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1) seeks to undermine the Person and work of Christ (i.e., a different Jesus and a different gospel, 2 Corinthians 11:3-4).

In line with the cult’s false gospel of works as opposed to grace (Romans 11:6), in order to be justified (declared righteous) before God, many cults teach that one of several necessary steps to becoming saved is to be baptized in water. This inevitably removes the focus from Christ’s finished work and imputed righteousness to the individual (faith in Christ alone by grace alone), and subtlety or overtly leads to the conclusion that “official” baptism by and into the cult (the one and only true church) actually will save.

Several groups teach baptismal salvation. Among them are Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God, United Pentecostals, and many Churches of Christ.

There are about eight main verses that the cults use as proof-texts for their doctrine of baptismal regeneration, but the most popular is 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.'”

Notice that on the surface it seems to prove their point, but not when one applies sound principles of interpretation. Remember the question to always ask is, “What does the passage mean“, not, “What does it say?”. For instance, Jesus seems to say in Luke 14:33 that one cannot be a disciple (Christian) unless he first gives away all his possessions. Obviously we have to interpret the verse in light of the context and in relation to the rest of Scripture.

First is the historical context. Jesus and the Gentile converts to Judaism were very familiar with the symbol of baptism for cleansing and separation. It was normal practice (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 122; New Bible Dictionary, Douglas, p. 131). John the Baptist continued the symbol of baptismal cleansing of repentance, but noted there was a baptism which superseded it — that is baptism with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8).

The grammatical context is also important. A key word in Acts 2:38 for the baptismal salvation proponents is “for”; “baptized… for the forgiveness of sins.” They insist that the meaning be interpreted “in order to obtain” the forgiveness of sins. The problem with this insistence is that the word “for” (eis, in Greek) has several connotations in New Testament Koine Greek. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament says that eis is a versatile word which primarily “denotes entrance into, or direction and limit: into, to, toward, for, among,” (p. 183).

In other words the symbol of baptism could either be pointing towards the cleansing and forgiveness (with reference to), or could pointing to the actual procuring of forgiveness (in order to).

Renowned Greek scholar A. T. Robertson states that not only does eis signify “aim or purpose” (in order to) as in 1 Corinthians 2:7, it can just as well mean “on the basis or ground of (with reference to), Matthew 10:41; 12:41.

He states that, “the illustrations of both usages are numerous in the New Testament and the Koine (New Testament Greek) generally.

“One will decide the use here (Acts 2:38) according as he believes that baptism is essential to the remission of sins or not. My view is decidedly against the idea that Peter, Paul, or any one in the New Testament taught baptism as essential to the remission of sins…” (Word Pictures of the New Testament, pp. 35-36).

Why do the overwhelming percentage of Greek scholars agree with Robertson? Because the rest of Scripture refutes baptismal regeneration. All one has to do is read Acts 10, concerning the account of Peter taking the gospel (which saves, Romans 1:16), to Cornelius and the Gentiles. As Peter proceeds through the gospel message (vs. 34-43), the Scriptures relate that the gift of the Holy Spirit was received upon believing by these Gentiles before they were baptized in water (10:44-48; 11:17-18). Additionally, the Scripture teaches that this is the same way all are saved (Acts 11:15-18, 15:7-11).

About Damon Whitsell

Hello, my name is Damon. I have been studying Christian Cults since 1985 and doing Cult Apologetics online since 1998 because I grew up with Mormons, Oneness Pentecostals and Bible Missionaries in my family. All three of these groups (or Cults) think they are the One True Church and the Only True Christians and to be Saved you must join their Church. So as a result I started studying the Bible for myself to try to determine which of these groups had the truth. After much praying, reading and studying I decided the Mormon, Oneness Pentecostal and Bible Missionarie churches are not real Christian Churches at all, rather they are Christian Cults because they do not line up with what the bible really teaches about Salvation and they are not in agreement with other Essential Christian Doctrines. I found that according to what the Word of God teaches, and Historic/Orthodox Christian Teaching, Salvation cannot be earned by any form of human works or efforts I found that Salvation is ALL by the Grace and Work of God and that Salvation and Eternal Life are a Free Gift from God (Ephesians 2:8, Romans 6:23, John 3:16) to all who will Trust in Jesus Christ and the atoning sacrifice He made for us by dying on the Cross for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). The Word of God is clear and plainly says “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Because I know what it is like to be targeted by Cult Groups and to suffer from the spirtual confusion and frustration brought on by their false teachings, I have endeavored to help others find True Eternal Life in Jesus Christ and to break free from the clutches of, and to be healed from the damage done by, Cult Groups who claim to be the One True Church. So it is my hope and prayer that the Lord will use my Websites to help those that need help and that some who use my websites will be helped by them to find the Free Gift of God’s Salvation, that is only found in His only begotten son Jesus Christ.

Posted on September 22, 2015, in Baptism Prooftext and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. That is a lot of work to show this verse does not mean what it seems to mean. When I show this verse to people and just ask them what they think it means, it’s always the same as what the “cults” teach. The only ones who see it differently are the ones going to teachers like who who put in the work to make it say something differently.


  2. You must be born again, born of the water and born of the spirit. John 3:3-5


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