The Gospel and Water Baptism: A Study of Acts 22:16 by Lanny Thomas Tanton

acts22-16

SOURCE: Prologue

To best introduce the study of Acts 22:16, let me relate the following story.

When I was in the Churches of Christ, I was told—and through experience was tempted to believe—that “evangelical Christians” would deny the necessity of baptism for salvation, even when they could not explain those passages which teach it; that the average Baptist or Bible Church preacher could not “get around” the obvious and natural meaning of such passages as Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, and 1 Pet 3:21. They were, I was told, like the Jews in the first century, in that even with a plain message of Scripture before them, they would deliberately shut their eyes to the truth and refuse to believe it and be saved.

Do you believe this was unfair?

With that as a background, let me share with you one of the most amazing confessions I have ever heard.

One day I was sitting in the office of a president of a Baptist college. The man had an earned Ph.D. in theology and is someone for whom I have a deep respect. No doubt he made this confession to me because he did not perceive me as an “enemy” from the Churches of Christ.

He told me that he had publicly debated with Churches of Christ preachers. He respected their general “fundamentalism,” but in matters of salvation he abhorred their theology. He believed and defended the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone. However, he was not totally satisfied with his own interpretation of Acts 22:16 and 1 Pet 3:21. Acts 2:38, another Churches of Christ fortress, he could easily handle. However, Acts 22:16 was “very difficult” and 1 Pet 3:21 was, quoting Winston Churchill, a “mystery wrapped in a riddle and shrouded in an enigma.”

This confession still shocks me—especially coming as it did from a man of great learning and deep piety.

Was it confirmation of what I had always been told? Was this respected president a perfect example of someone holding to a doctrine in spite of the clear teaching of the Word of God? Was the Churches of Christ position the correct one after all?

It is because of such experiences that this article is written. Therefore, in order to present what I believe to be an adequate and satisfying interpretation of Acts 22:16, this article will state and evaluate the various exegetical options of this verse as found within the commentary tradition. It should be pointed out, however, that the commentary tradition, unlike its treatment of Acts 2:38, is not very extensive on Acts 22:16. There are, no doubt, many reasons for this. For one, it is a difficult text (commentators are notorious for commenting on the obvious and saying little on those passages where the problems exist!). Another reason is because this is the second of three times in Acts where Paul’s conversion experience is related, and most of the material—except this verse, which does not occur in the other accounts!—is treated elsewhere in the commentaries.

The context of Acts 22:16 finds Paul relating his testimony. He was going to Damascus to persecute believers when the Lord appeared to him. Blinded by the light, he was led into town to wait for someone to come to him. In Acts 22:16 Paul relates what Ananias, a believer commissioned by the Lord to go to Paul, said. It reads:

“‘And now why are you [Paul] waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'”1

I. The Sacramentarian View

Definition

The Sacramentarian view of this passage is quite straightforward: one washes away his sins at the time of (not necessarily by) his water baptism. Baptism, the biblically demanded act designed to manifest true faith, is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. Paul was not saved (i.e., regenerated) on the Damascus Road, but later in the city when Ananias had ministered to him.

Defenders

This view, while held by others, is best defended by apologists of the Churches of Christ.2

Defense

The defense of this position, like the sacramentarian defense of Acts 2:38, rests upon a straightforward, prima facie reading of the text. A few quotations from Churches of Christ commentators present this view with pointed force.

J. W. McGarvey, in an extended treatment of the conversion of Paul, makes this defense:

Such is the baleful influence of this gross departure from the word of God, that men who are under its influence are constantly denouncing as heretics those who venture to follow the example of Ananias. He finds the man to whom he is sent, praying to the Lord Jesus; but, instead of commanding him to pray on, and praying with him, he says to him, “Why do you tarry? Arise, and be immersed, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord”…

It is high time that people were won back from such delusions, and made to feel the necessity of following the word of God. Ananias was guided by the apostolic commission. Seeing there were three conditions of pardon, faith, repentance, and immersion, and that Saul had already complied with the first two, he does not tantalize him by telling him to believe or urging him to repent, but commands him to do the one thing which he had not yet done, “Arise, and be immersed.” He instantly obeyed; and then, for the first time since he saw the vision by the way, he was sufficiently composed to take food and drink…

Like the eunuch, it was after he came up out of the water that he rejoiced.

His composure and peace of mind, after being immersed, was the proper result of intelligent obedience in that institution. If he had not already learned its design, by what he knew of apostolic preaching, the words of Ananias conveyed it without ambiguity. To a sinner mourning over his guilt, seeking pardon, and knowing that the Lord alone could forgive sins, the command to be immersed and wash away his sins could convey the one idea, that upon the washing of water over the body in immersion, the Lord would remove his sins by forgiving them. That such was the idea intended in the metaphorical expression, “wash away,” would need no argument, if it had not suited the theories of modern sectaries to call it in question. It is a common assumption that Saul’s sins had been really forgiven before his immersion, and Ananias required him only to formally wash them away. But this is a mere combination of words to hide the absence of an idea. How can a man formally do a thing which has been really done, unless it be by going through a form which is empty and deceptive? If Saul’s sins were already washed away, then he did not wash them away in immersion, and the language of Ananias was deceptive. But it is an indisputable fact, that at the time Ananias gave him this command he was still unhappy, and, therefore, unforgiven. Immediately after he was immersed, he was happy; and the change took place in the meantime, which connects it with his immersion. In precise accordance, therefore, with the commission, his sins were forgiven when he was immersed.3 (Emphasis is McGarvey’s.)

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was not only one of the prime movers behind the “Restoration Movement” which produced both the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, but a genius by almost any standard.4 Campbell, in his classic work Christian Baptism, observes that the phrase “wash away your sins” is:

A most unguarded and unjustified form of address, under the sanction of a divine mission, if baptism had not for its design the formal and definite remission of sin, according to the Pentecostian address.5

Also, in his Greek commentary on the Book of Acts, Campbell writes:

Kai apolousai tas hamartias sou, and wash away your sins. This clause states a result of the immersion, in language derived from the nature of the ordinance. It answers to eis aphesin hamartion, in ch. 2:38. Immersion is represented as having this importance of efficacy because it is the sign of the repentance and faith which are the conditions of salvation. Epikalesamenos to onoma autou supplies, essentially, the place of epi to onomati Iesou Christou, in 2:38.

Prof. Hackett [and here Campbell is quoting from H. H. Hackett, an outstanding Baptist scholar who wrote a commentary on the Greek text of Acts] sustains the com. ver. of this verse. His words are: “This clause states a result of baptism in language derived from the nature of that ordinance. It answers to eis aphesin hamartion, in Acts 2:38, i.e., submit to the rite in order to be forgiven. In both passages baptism is represented as having this importance or efficacy, because it is the sign of the repentance and faith, which are the conditions of this salvation.” See Hackett, 22:10.6

Regarding the phrase “calling on the name of the Lord,” this view would understand it to mean “to obey God by being baptized.” James D. Bales, a Professor of Christian Doctrine at Harding University (a Churches of Christ school) writes on the occurrence of this same phrase in Acts 2:21. Much of what he says about Acts 2:21 fits his interpretation of this phrase in 22:16:

A Christian, in invoking Christ, may call by praying. Stephen did so… The Christians were known as those “who call upon thy name (Acts 9:14; 1 Cor. 1:2).

How do we know that Acts 2:21 does not mean that the alien sinner must pray through for salvation? The people there assembled did not understand it to mean that, nor did Peter explain it to mean that one must pray through. The passage does not say so. When they asked what they must do (Acts 2:37) it indicated that they did not understand Acts 2:21 to mean that they could be saved through praying through at a mourner’s bench. When Peter told them what to do he did not say “You already know what to do, for I have already told you you can be saved by calling upon the name of the Lord” (Acts 2:21). He had to explain to them what it meant to call on the Lord. Instead of repeating verse 21, Peter told them to repent and be baptized in order to be forgiven. This makes it evident that calling on the name of the Lord meant to appeal to God, to depend on God, by submitting to His way of salvation. To call on the name of the Lord was equal to obeying the gospel… 2:21 is more general, while 2:38 is more specific as to what one must do in calling on the name of the Lord—for calling on His name was necessary to salvation. The alien sinner invokes the aid of Christ. Verse 38 explains how the calling is done.7

Thus, the Sacramentarian View, and many in the Churches of Christ, would argue that one is not saved by, or at the moment of, faith and praying the sinner’s prayer. “Calling on the name of the Lord” was something done in baptism. Acts 22:16 and Acts 2:38 are interrelated.

The Churches of Christ emphasis upon the necessity for water baptism should not be understood to mean that the death of Christ was unimportant or unnecessary. George W. DeHoff tries to establish a relationship between Acts 22:16 and Rev 1:5 (“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood”). DeHoff writes:

All people who believe the Bible must believe that our sins are washed away by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. His blood was shed for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28). We have redemption through the blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7). There is no remission apart from the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22)… This raises the question “how are we washed in the blood of Christ?” To answer this question we need to find out what people did in the New Testament times in order to be washed in His blood. Saul of Tarsus was told to “Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). From this verse we conclude that the sins of an alien sinner are washed away when he is baptized. One could not believe the Bible without believing this truth. This verse does not teach that water washes away sins. It merely says that sins are washed away when the person is baptized. It does not say what washes these sins away. It merely tells us when these sins are washed away—when we are baptized.

“Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Revelation 1:5). This verse answers for us the question of what washes away these sins—the blood of Christ. It does not state when the blood of Christ washes away sins. This is answered for us in Acts 22:16—our sins are washed away when we are scripturally baptized. Revelation 1:5 tells us what washes away our sins and Acts 22:16 tells us when.8

Thus, the forgiveness of sins, according to DeHoff, is the result of both the human and the divine. God washes away sins by the blood of Christ (the divine work) when one is water baptized (the human work).

Defense

There are several strengths to this position.

First, its proponents accept a natural and straightforward reading of the passage. Here it may be difficult to fault them. This reading of the text is strengthened by their equally natural reading of Acts 2:38 and 1 Pet 3:21, passages which place baptism in a close relationship with forgiveness of sins and salvation.

Secondly, this position is probably correct in assuming that, in spite of the Damascus Road experience, Saul had yet to call upon the Lord and wash away his sins.

Thirdly, this position is also correct to see “calling on the name of the Lord” as something done at baptism. In this there is some agreement among evangelical scholars. For example F. F. Bruce interprets the act of “calling on the name of the Lord” as “being baptized ‘in the name’ (or ‘with the name’) of Jesus in the sense of 2:38; 10:48.”9 George Raymond Beasley-Murray, a Baptist, in his magnum opus, Baptism in the New Testament, writes:

The name of the Lord Jesus is confessed by the baptismal candidate and is invoked by him. Just as baptism is an occasion of confessing faith in Christ and is itself confession, so it is the occasion of prayer by the baptizand and is itself an act of prayer…. He that in baptism “calls on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16) undergoes baptism in a prayerful spirit; it becomes the supreme occasion and even vehicle of his yielding to the Lord Christ. Here is an aspect of baptism to which justice has not been done in the Church since its early days; baptism as a means of prayer for acceptance with God and for full salvation from God, an instrument of surrender” of a man formerly at enmity with God but who has learned of the great Reconciliation, lays down his arms in total capitulation and enters into peace.10 (Emphasis is Beasley-Murray’s.)

Rudolf Stier, a commentator of a former generation, stated: “All three expressions, baptism, washing away, calling, denote one and together the same thing.”11

Deficiencies

This position, however, also has some serious weaknesses.

First, this position teaches a regeneration by faith and works. This is a contradiction to the Gospel of John, which proclaims faith as the sole prerequisite to receiving eternal life. Ephesians 2:8-9 also prohibits a salvation of faith and works. Therefore, while this position does have strong grammatical support for its interpretation of 22:16, it has weak theological support.

Secondly, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Paul was regenerated on the Damascus Road. Stanley Toussaint presents several factors which suggest that Paul was regenerated there:

(1) The Gospel was presented to him directly by Christ (Gal. 1:11-12), not later by Ananias. (2) Already (Acts 22:10) Paul said he had submitted in faith to Christ. (3) Paul was filled with the Spirit before his baptism with water (9:17-18).12

Given the unusual circumstances of the Damascus Road experience, it is difficult to reject the idea that Paul did believe then, and, therefore, did receive eternal life (as per the Gospel of John). While Toussaint holds that Paul was filled with the Spirit before he was baptized with water, one should note that 9:17-18 does not explicitly say so. It could be that, like the crowd at Pentecost, Saul did not receive the Holy Spirit until he was baptized. An instance like this should not be considered unlikely, given the transition between the two dispensations in the beginning of Acts and the case of OT saints who were also regenerated without possessing the Holy Spirit (cf. John 7:37-39). Thus, Saul’s reception of the Spirit and the forgiveness of his sins would occur at his baptism and in accordance with Acts 2:38, even though he was regenerated on the Damascus Road.

Thirdly, this position fails to notice the unique setting of Acts 22:16. Luke records the conversion account of Saul three times in Acts (Acts 9, 22, 26). However, only once did Luke relate Ananias’s demand for baptism with the washing away of sins. It is significant that the single occurrence was before a Jewish crowd in the Temple area in Jerusalem. Accordingly, the same general audience which heard Acts 2:38 also heard Acts 22:16. This writer failed to find a single defender of this view who produced a passage in Acts which addresses Gentiles with a demand to be baptized with the specific purpose of receiving the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Gentile Cornelius, in Acts 10, is promised the forgiveness of sins upon believing, and receives the Holy Spirit before he was baptized. There is nothing in Acts to contradict this as a pattern for Gentiles.13 Neither Acts 2:38 nor 22:16 is binding today. They are unique to the first century Palestinian. Only in this way can we take 2:38 and 22:16 at face value and yet avoid contradicting the Gospel of justification by grace through faith alone.

II. The Grammatical View

Definition

A second option for Acts 22:16 may be called “The Grammatical View.” This view holds that Ananias’s command to Saul to wash away his sins is not grammatically related to the command to be baptized. Thus the actual washing away of Saul’s sins came the moment he called in faith upon the Lord’s name. This position sees baptism as a symbolic act, which depicts the cleansing. The calling upon the name, not the baptism, effected the washing away of Saul’s sins.

Defenders

This view is held by such Bible scholars as James D. G. Dunn, Fritz Rienecker, and Stanley D. Toussaint.14

Defense

The argument that one is saved by “calling on the name of the Lord” rather than by water baptism is based primarily upon a grammatical argument—that the usual usage of an aorist participle indicates action preceding that of the main verb.15 In this case, the aorist participle “calling” (epikalesamenos) would be translated “having called upon the name of the Lord, wash away your sins.” Thus, one’s sins are washed away, not by water baptism, but by the act of calling on the name of the Lord, an act usually interpreted to mean the believing or praying of the sinner for salvation. Dunn presents his evidence for this position with close attention to the grammar:

The epikalesamenos to onoma autou goes principally with the apolousai tas hamartias sou, as the balance of the sentence also suggests—anastas…baptisai, apolousai, epikalesamenos. Acts 22:16 shows that baptizein and apoleuein are not synonyms. Nor is there any requirement in the text itself to take the two actions described by these verbs as causally related = be baptized and (in and by that action) have your sins washed away. They are coordinate actions, related through the epikalesamenos [etc.]. In fact, we have once again the three elements of conversion-initiation—water-baptism, the Spirit’s cleansing, and the individual’s appeal of faith.16

Deficiencies

A number of remarks may be made about Dunn’s defense. First, his statement that baptizein and apoluein are not causally related may be debated. It appears natural, when dealing with two imperatives, to take the second one as subordinate to the first. For example, Nathanael responds to Philip’s prejudice with “Come and see” (John 1:46). Likewise, apolousai is subordinate to baptisai, and not independent.

Secondly, it would be natural to see a relationship between “be baptized” and “wash away” in that both imply the use of water. Moreover, baptism, as a cleansing act, does have some historical support. Averbeck observes:

Jdt [Judith] 12:7 and Sir [Sirach, i.e. Ecclesiasticus] 31 (34):25 are interesting in that baptizo is used in reference to cleansing from levitical impurity…. Therefore, though baptizo is not used in the canonical OT for cleansing from levitical impurity, it seems clear from these two texts that such was not the case later on. The association of this verb with this type of impurity may well have made itself felt in certain passages in the NT (for example, Acts 22:16).

The story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5 is well-known. V14 reads: “So he went down and dipped (ebaptisato) himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean….” The implications of this text for the issue of mode are obvious. However, there is another important point here. The verb taher, “to be clean,” is regularly used to describe levitical purity and purification (see Lev. 14:20 and many other examples there and elsewhere). In fact, there is no instance where the Qal stem of this verb is used in the sense of physical cleanliness. Thus, it seems that its use in 2 Kgs. 5:14 must indicate some kind of socio-religious purity. Again, the significance of such an observation can only be appreciated when the NT text is approached with this in mind.17

One should note that “ritual cleansing” may not be identical with “symbolic cleansing.” The priests did not wash because they were clean, but became clean because of the washing (Lev 8:6; 16:4; etc., see also Ezek 36:25). The same could be true of Saul. His sins were washed away (i.e., he was cleansed) at his water baptism. In light of Averbeck’s statement, it is also possible to understand the purpose of Saul’s baptism to be for fellowship with God rather than for salvation (cf. John 13:10; 1 John 1:9).

Thirdly, Dunn’s interpretation leaves the command for baptism unexplained. By separating the two imperatives baptisai and apolousai, Saul is told to be baptized, but he is not told why. It would seem natural to understand “washing” as the reason for and significance of the demand for water baptism.

Fourthly, Toussaint, taking a slightly different approach to 22:16 than does Dunn, sees Saul as coming to salvation on the Damascus Road (where he calls on the name of the Lord), while his baptism symbolically shows that his sins had been washed away.18 However, the text does not indicate that baptism is a “symbol.” Evangelical scholar G. R. Beasley-Murray declares:

In the light of this apostolic teaching, modern confessional watchwords about baptism like “declarative,” “symbolic,” “self-operative,” etc., are inadequate. In Acts and the epistles baptism appears as a divine-human event, even as the “turning” to God, with which it is invariably associated, is a divine-human event.19

The “Grammatical View” is theologically correct in separating baptism from regeneration. However, it is weak in its treatment of the text of Acts 22:16. The “washing away” of sins cannot be separated from water baptism.

III. The Ultra-Dispensational View Definition

The ultra-dispensational view understands Acts 22:16 as having no relationship or bearing whatever on today’s practices of water baptism. The Church was not even in existence at the start of the Book of Acts and did not come into existence until, at least, the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10 (an event that occurred after the conversion of Saul).

Defenders

This view has been defended by men like Charles F. Baker, E. W. Bullinger, A. E. Knoch, and Charles Welch.20

Defense

Regarding Acts 22:16, the ultra-dispensationalists are usually silent or repeat their comments on Acts 2:38. Charles F. Baker writes:

As soon as Ananias had laid his hands on Saul, scales or incrustations fell from his eyes and he received his sight. Saul was then baptized. Although Saul’s conversion was not the result of human preaching, but of divine intervention, it is evident that he was saved under the prevailing Kingdom program of baptism for the remission of sins. Ananias told him, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). He told Saul what he would have told any other Jew. Baptism under the Kingdom gospel was a washing or cleansing ceremony, the same as the many baptisms of the Old Testament (Heb 9:10). But we never read of Paul telling his Gentile converts to be baptized in order to wash away their sins, even while he was practicing baptism during the Transition period. Baptism was not a part of his commission (1 Cor. 1:17). After the Transition, Paul recognized only one baptism, that done by the Spirit (Eph. 4:5; 1 Cor. 12:13).21

Deficiencies

As attractive as this view may at first appear to some, it requires two different ways for regeneration—one for the Jew and another for the Gentile. The Gospel of John and Paul in Romans 4 show that regeneration and justification always occurred at the moment of faith. The “ultra-dispensational” view also believes that the Church, which is the body of Christ, is not found in Acts. Arguments against this position were stated in my previous article on Acts 2:38 and are clearly articulated in Charles C. Ryrie’s excellent book on the subject, Dispensationalism Today.22

The “ultra-dispensational” view, therefore, is not without serious theological problems.

IV. The Transitional View

Definition

Those who hold this view believe that the Church, the Body of Christ, was established on the day of Pentecost (unlike the ultra-dispensational view) and that regeneration occurs at the moment of faith (as per the Gospel of John). However, for certain Palestinian Jews, exposed to the ministry of John the Baptist and also having an extra degree of guilt for actually consenting to the murder of our Lord, the extra measure of public identification with the Lord in water baptism was the condition upon which they received the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Defenders

This view has been espoused by S. Craig Glickman and Zane C. Hodges.23

Defense

Although not widely known, this interpretation offers some interesting insights concerning our passage.

First, this view understands Saul’s experience to have some parallel to the experience of the Pentecostal audience of Acts 2. Both were regenerated by faith alone before they were baptized. The Pentecostal audience indicated their faith by their question in 2:37 (“What shall we do?”),24 and Saul believed on the Damascus Road. However, both were, in spite of their faith and regeneration, unforgiven! For this reason they both needed to be water baptized. Hodges comments:

Paul, of course, had come to faith on the Damascus road and had then and there received the gift of life that is promised to faith (John 3:16 and many others). But forgiveness—i.e., the cleansing which makes intimate relations with God a moral possibility—was withheld from him until he was baptized. This is as clear as it could be from this verse, taken at face value. Moreover, it is precisely in line with the natural interpretation of Acts 2:38. From which it is necessary to conclude that those partaking of Jerusalem’s and the nation’s guilt in the rejection of Christ could not enter into an acceptable communion with the One they had rejected, until they acknowledged Him in the act of baptism.25

Secondly, this view sees the act of “calling on the name of the Lord” as a post-regeneration experience. This is based on Rom 10:13-15 which indicates that the act of calling on the name of the Lord occurs after faith. If the order of the events in Romans 10 is reversed into chronological order this becomes evident:

  1. Sending of the preacher (v 15b)
  2. Preaching (v 15a)
  3. Hearing (v 14b)
  4. Believing (v 14a)
  5. Calling on the name of the Lord (v 13).26

Accordingly, to “call on the name of the Lord” is not the same as believing or praying for salvation, but it is something done after regenerating faith. The act of “calling on the name of the Lord” has an interesting history and, according to Hodges, is something characteristic of believers:

Paul before Festus “appealed to Caesar” (Acts 25:11). The verb is the same as here, epikaleomai. (The underlying Hebrew verb qārā’ also had a courtroom usage, cf. Isa. 59:4 and see BDB, 895.) Paul thus “called upon” Caesar. This was a privilege granted to citizens of Rome, but not to mere provincials. Christians became known as those who “called upon” the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 9:14, 21; 1 Cor. 1:2). Christians recognized a higher authority than Caesar and a greater throne than his. They were citizens of a heavenly city; and just as the Roman citizen appealed over the head of subordinate judges, so Christians appealed over the head of every earthly judge to the Judge of all. Their Lord and Savior sat on the right hand of the majesty on high. (Likewise, we, in time of need, can appeal above earthly justice, or above the circumstances of life; we call on the name of the Lord.) Stephen (Acts 7:59) is the first illustration of this privilege. Condemned and executed by a court of earth, he appealed for acceptance in the presence of a higher Judge… Thus, “calling on the name of the Lord” is viewed in the relevant passages in Acts as a characteristic activity of believers, perhaps beginning at baptism (cf. 22:16). It is people who do this that will be “saved” from the impending catastrophes.27

Therefore, to call upon the name of the Lord may be a prayer which one makes after regeneration or even at the time of one’s baptism. To call on the name of the Lord is not the act that makes one born again. Faith, not calling, is needed for regeneration.

Thirdly, this view understands 22:16 in light of 2:38. As stated earlier in this article, the conversion of Saul is recorded by Luke on three occasions (Acts 9,22, and 26). However, only once, in 22:16, do we learn of the command to be baptized and wash away sins. It is perhaps due to Luke’s artistry as a writer that he waited until this context to include that command in the narrative. If Acts 2:38 has special relevance to those in Palestine, then it is not surprising that such terms are not mentioned on any of Paul’s missionary journeys. In fact, no Gentile is ever explicitly told to be baptized for the remission of sins.28 However, when Paul is back in Jerusalem, addressing the same general crowd who received the Pentecostal commands of 2:38, he repeats the same terms. This fits the pattern of the Transitional View that Palestinians shared in a special guilt for having crucified their Messiah and needed to change their behavior (i.e., repent and be baptized) in order to receive both the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.29 Thus, 22:16 is consistent with the Palestinian context of Acts 2:38, but not with the Gentile requirement of faith (Acts 10:43; 16:31).

Deficiencies

Since this view has not had a wide reading, its deficiencies are not found in the commentary tradition (but then again, nothing much is listed in the commentary tradition on this thorny passage!) Some will object to this view that it should at least be viewed with suspicion, and others will posit that it should be rejected entirely because it is “new.” However, as we have attempted to demonstrate in this article, to reject this view leaves us with an old, unsolved problem. Any solution to this verse is going to be new because the old views do not answer this particular problem.

However, the strengths of this position which particularly appeal to me, coming as I do from a Churches of Christ background, are considerable. Like the Sacramentarian View, this view lets the grammar of the verse stand at face value. However, unlike the Sacramentarian View, this view avoids the serious objection that such a reading of the text makes regeneration a matter of faith plus works. By noting that forgiveness of sins is not necessarily a synonym for regeneration or justification, this interpretation is able to maintain consistency with the Gospel of John, Romans 4, and Eph 2:1-10.

Also, this position has additional strength in that it attempts to treat these passages in light of the structure and transitional nature of the entire Book of Acts, with special attention to where these commands are made. In this it shows a consistency in both theological and literary structure.

I have found in fundamentalism/evangelicalism a kind of patchwork consistency in answers treating Acts 2:38, 22:16, and 1 Pet 3:21. One verse is handled one way, a second verse is handled a different way, and a third verse is handled in yet another way. But there is no “lining up the ducks in a row.” In baseball language, I feel that for the most part we in evangelicalism, knowing that we cannot hit a home run—i.e., handle clearly and cleanly the subject of salvation and water baptism as found in these verses—are content merely to hit foul balls until the conversation moves to a subject we can really talk about! This was frustrating to me as I was sincerely seeking the truth when in the Churches of Christ; it is still frustrating to me after having left. Furthermore, we shouldn’t expect people who hold the Churches of Christ view to switch very readily to our view of salvation by grace through faith alone when they can handle these passages in a consistent, straightforward manner, while our interpretations often are in such a state of disarray!

In short, this view has all of the strengths of the Sacramentarian View, yet avoids its weaknesses.

V. Conclusion

In this article we have briefly examined Acts 22:16. While little has been written on this passage within the commentary tradition, it has been possible to examine four basic views.

First, the Sacramentarian View was examined. It has some grammatical strength, but a critical theological weakness.

Secondly, the Grammatical View was examined. It suffers because it takes the grammar of 22:16 a bit “woodenly,” and misunderstands the nature of calling on the name of the Lord.” However, it does attempt to maintain justification by faith.

Thirdly, we examined the Ultra-Dispensational View. It has grammatical strength, but a theological weakness, leaving itself open to the charge of teaching two ways of salvation—faith alone for the Gentiles, but faith plus water baptism for the Jews.

Lastly, we examined the position held by this writer, the Transitional View. It attempts to take the grammar at face value and maintain justification by faith by recognizing three things:

  1. That the forgiveness of sins is not in all circumstances a synonym for justification or regeneration.
  2. That calling on the name of the Lord is something a believer, already regenerated, does.
  3. That Acts 2:38 and 22:16 are of one cloth, each reflecting a unique situation which is not duplicated today and which does not affect the message which Paul himself preached to the Gentiles: that justification is by grace alone through faith alone.http://www.faithalone.org/journal/1991i/Tanton.html
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About Damon Whitsell

In the last 18 years I have spent much of my time studying and doing Christian Cult Apologetics, and I spent 5 years studying, exposing and fighting Islam all @ DamonWhitsell.com. Since the five Dallas Police Officers were assassinated I have been fighting Black Lives Matter and studying it's related issues. It will be my passion and goal for years to come to fight and stop the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Posted on September 26, 2015, in Baptism Prooftext, Baptismal Regeneration and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. This is the longest dissertation that I have ever read to leave one still questioning the need for baptism. K.I.S.S., keep it short and simple. Arguing over the need for water baptism is like arguing over Christ need to be buried in a tune and to be resurrected on the third day. Baptism is the burial which one goes through to arise and walk in newness of life. It’s not difficult. It doesn’t need to be argued.

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    • Hi Ray, thanks for visiting. But I have to whole-heartedly disagree and be honest with you. To put baptism, as far as need goes, on the same level as the death burial and resurrection is just straight up heresy and is exemplary of the gospel twisted and turned into a false gospel.

      Paul clearly defined the gospel that saves. 1Co 15:1-4 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; BY WHICH ALSO YE ARE SAVED, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, UNLESS YOU HAVE BELIEVED IN VAIN. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

      Paul also say clearly that baptism is not the gospel or even a part of the gospel. 1Co_1:17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

      And any other gospel than the one Paul preached is gospel at all. Gal 1:6-7 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

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  2. Ray, you’re right. The evidence is right there, easy to see, but some fail to because of a hardness of heart (Eph. 4:18).

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    • Hello Joe, your comment is a subjective statement that could be said by anybody about anyone because it is just opinion. The same could be said of you but that would not address any part of the baptismal regeneration debate or the topic of the post Acts 22:16. But if you have something of substance to say please do so.

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  3. That’s fine. Then here’s a response of “substance” that doesn’t require a 6000 word post. “And what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Joe’s and Ray’s and Damon’s words and opinions don’t really matter. There it is in God’s word for all who have an open heart to see. Baptism washes away our sins. It’s as simple as that.

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  4. Here is what I don’t understand about these one-verse-wonders that the COC and other cult or cult-like churches put out there to foist a false works-based-salvation instead of the true grace-based-salvation through faith in Christ. It really doesn’t matter what one-verse-wonder you’re dealing with about “water baptism,” whether it’s Acts 2:38, John 3:3, 1 Peter 3:21, or this one, as in Acts 22:16.
    Do these folks just take it on faith that what so-and-so tells them is true, even when it’s not. Each of those one-verse-wonder “water baptism” verses has a scholarly and biblical explanation, when taken in the proper context, and when a single verse is not ripped out of there and proffered up like a gourmet meal when it’s just pablum for the cult masses.

    Here is why Acts 22:16 is not about water baptism. It wouldn’t take a lot of study for one to come to realize that the telling of the Events in Acts 16 is nothing more than a retelling of the original events in Acts 9. Check it out….

    Act 9:17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

    Now, it doesn’t take a biblical rocket scientist to figure out that the terms “receive thy sight” and “be billed with the Holy Ghost” are related. Right after Ananias says this, Paul receives his sight, so naturally since the reception of the Holy Ghost is linked with receiving the sight, it came before the baptism in water, just like it did with the household of Cornelius in Acts 10. Now let’s return to Acts 22:16, armed with this information of the origin in Acts 9….

    Act 22:14 And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. 15 For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. 16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

    The bottom line is, neither water nor water baptism can “wash away your sins.”

    Heb 9:20 Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. 21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. 22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

    Only blood can wash away sins. In the Old Covenant, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would once a year enter into the Holy of Holies behind the veil, and offer up the blood of the sacrifice by sprinkling it seven times upon the Mercy Seat, or lid of the Ark of the Covenant….

    Lev 16:17 And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel. 18 And he shall go out unto the altar that is before the LORD, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about. 19 And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.

    The problem was, this act didn’t actually cleanse anyone of their sins….

    Heb 10:1 For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.

    So what the Day of Atonement was really all about was a sort of Promissory Note because the Day of Atonement in the Old Covenant was a foreshadowing of the more perfect once and final atonement in the New Covenant. Like the Old Covenant Day of Atonement, there would be a High Priest. There would be a temple, this time in Heaven. And there would be a blood offering, sprinkled by the High Priest seven times upon the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Heaven. This once and final atonement for sin would not only wash away the sins of those who were saints under the New Covenant, but would also atone for those saints in the Old Covenant as well when that last atonement was accomplished. And here it is….

    Heb 9:6 Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. 7 But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: :8 The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: 9 Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; 10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. 11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; 12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

    So you see, only the blood of Jesus, sprinkled by Him as High Priest upon the Mercy Seat in the Temple of Heaven would bring about the once and final atonement for sin. Thus, only the blood of Jesus can enable the washing of your sins away. Neither water nor water baptism can do that.

    Act 10:42 And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. 43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.

    Peter here states three important things: First, that belief in Jesus, and not water or water baptism, is the key to accessing Jesus’ blood atonement unto Remission of sins. Second, that the Prophets of the Old Covenant, and thus the saints of the Old Covenant, were both aware that belief in the Messiah to come would be the key to accessing remission of sins, but that they looked forward to the day when they too could access it.
    Third, right after Peter finishes speaking these things, the proof is in the pudding, as they say; when the household of Cornelius received Salvation, Remission of Sins, the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, all before water baptism is mentioned by Peter, let alone undertaken.

    So, back to Acts 22:16…..

    Act 22:15 For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. 16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

    Since Acts 22:16 is a retelling of the original events in Acts 9, and since neither water nor water baptism can either enable or access remission of sins; then this is one of the many cases where “baptizo” for “baptism” does not mean “water baptism,” but instead simply means “immerse.” So, the statement is, “Why tarry? Arise, be immersed in the blood of Jesus through His atonement for sin, and your sins will be washed away. Ananias is calling upon Paul to be immersed not in “water” or “water baptism,” but instead directly immersed into the atoning blood of Christ through belief in Jesus. Just because you see “baptism” doesn’t mean you should automatically assume “water baptism,” for the same reason that just because you see “water” doesn’t necessarily mean “water baptism.”

    And that is why Acts 22:16 is not about a “water baptism” or “baptismal regeneration.” Because neither water nor water baptism can enable or access remission of sins. Only the blood of Jesus can enable remission of sins, and only belief in Jesus is the key to accessing Remission of sins….

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    • Dang brother, your on fire today on the CoC. If I make this a groupblog would you like to post on the CoC here? I would love that and have someones else who wants to groupblog here on the CoC too. Let me know!!!

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      • What is a Groupblog? I might be interested. Do you mainly post for/to the COC? I’m also versed with the Mormon’s, JW’s, and Oneness Pentecostals….

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      • I can easily make this blog able to have many different authors. I have one groupblog on the word of faith movement with 8 authors although I am the only one that post anymore. Your post would appear under your name and there would be a place on the sidebar that list the different authors so visitors can access post just by you if they chose. Right now I have one ex-coc who is now a confessional Lutheran, and he wants to blog here and start a blog elsewhere on apologetics and cult and false teaching exposure. I have big plans for this blog. I went to start up my old BlogTalkRadio show to do shows on the CoC for a while. But I found new and better technology that will enable a TV show where many of us can do live vlogging (video blogging). So I plan to interview my ex-coc freinds, some that are still coc but not hardliners thinking they are the one true church and baptism saves. They stay in the coc to reform. And to have live debates and a round table discussion on the CoC that will include hardliners so we can really hash things out. And you would be getting in early as more will want to groupblob in time. I have only had this site for a few months so I expect it to grow faster in it’s reach and quality as time goes on. What do you think?

        I also have many other blogs,, you can access most of them at http://damonwhitsell.com/

        But my blog where I deal with classical cults is old and not set up right to continue posting there. I have other new blogs where I am trying to focus on positive theology, teaching right doctrine instead of critiquing false doctrine. So right now I do not post on the LDS or JW’s and the likes much.

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  5. My two favorite things, critiquing false doctrine, and showing positive theology from the Bible. Teaching right doctrine that makes sense for the whole Bible, instead of just a torn out of context part that isn’t true because the whole Bible doesn’t support it. I’m currently writing two books. One is a Book about the Covenant of Salvation, from the Old Testament to the New, and so on. It it set up to teach what Salvation is, how to obtain it, and how to lead another to Salvation in Christ. The second book is a Christian fiction, but obviously I also have time to write my 200+ notes on Facebook and what I’ve written previously before I joined Facebook. And I have time to write these responses.

    To me, the critique of false doctrine in the COC is easy. Water baptism saves no one, never did in the Old Covenant, never will in the New. The COC’s claim that they are the original church is also absurd, so it’s not hard proving that some of their beliefs are false, and foster a false works-based gospel rather than the true grace-based one.

    For some time now I’ve been trying to find a way for people to ask questions about the Bible, and then write a post to answer those questions, but I haven’t found a way to tap into that yet. I really like helping people further their walk in Christ, including answering questions biblically. Let me pray about it and I’ll get back to you in a day or so. I do have a copy of everything I’ve ever written either to Facebook or before Facebook. Quite a few deal with “water baptism” and correct biblical theology to find the truth.

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