Baptismal Regeneration: A Systematic and Thorough Refutation Part 2

Peter at Pentecost

The first Scripture to deal with is Acts 2:38, which is one of the key passages for BR:

“Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

At first glance, there seems to be no reason to argue against how this Scripture would substantiate BR. However, four arguments that can be used here. I have numbered them from the weakest (1) to the strongest (4).

1.     The Jewish Context

2.     The Greek word “eis” used in the passage

3.     The surrounding context emphasizes repentance and faith

4.     The pattern of Peter’s message

When Peter spoke, the audience was primarily natural Jews along with gentile converts to Judaism (Acts 2:5-11).  When the crowd gathered and Peter preached, they were “cut to the heart” because of how Peter spoke concerning Christ (v 37). It was then that the crowd was in desperation because of what they heard, and Peter calls them to repentance and to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the “remission,” or forgiveness of sins, along with promising the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It is noted by some that since Peter was speaking to a Jewish crowd, the mentioning of remission in conjunction with baptism would make sense because of the Old Testament idea of cleansing. This is the Jewish context referred to above. However, we will see that this may not be the case when we look at 1 Peter 3:21 later on. Also, the Greek word in place of the word “for” (eis) used here can signify that repentance and baptism was looking “toward” the remission of sin, not that baptism in itself is the agent of remission. Both of these points bring something to the table, but when you notice first that repentance is mentioned PRIOR to baptism, and that in verse 41only those that “gladly received” Peter’s word were the only candidates for baptism, you can see repentance and faith (explicitly and implicitly) are revealed as being necessary for baptism. Because of this, baptism is significant and gains its significance from faith, not the other way around. In other words, it is urgent to show that this Scripture is going to be the beginning of a pattern revealed in Acts of how only by faith is baptism necessary, thus exposing why there can be no real regeneration without it (faith). Even so, we will see that a false faith/belief can be exemplified (the case of Simon the Sorcerer), and that faith is what is highly emphasized throughout the book of Acts, especially in Peter’s preaching, above and beyond baptism.

When discussing the theology and pattern of Peter’s preaching, you will see that even though here in Acts 2:38 he states salvation with reference to baptism, giving the impression that salvation is by baptism, in other portions of Acts when he is preaching or making mention of salvation, he doesn’t affirm such a position (as you will soon see). The reason for this is because, once again, you will notice in systematically reading Acts that God is sovereign in salvation, and that faith/believe always precede baptism and will be the central means by which one gains salvation. Moreover, it is important to realize that all throughout the book of Acts, Peter had several opportunities to provide the New Testament Church with some theological treatise on how regeneration is contingent upon baptism, but he doesn’t (a case that will be explored from Acts 15).

One more point is worth noting concerning Peter’s message here. In Luke 24:47 it states that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in Christ’s name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” with no mention of baptism. In Mathew 28:19-20 is says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” with no mention of repentance and faith. When we take these two separate portions of Scripture and harmonize them, we get most of the elements of salvation with exception to faith/belief. Now, does this make faith/belief obsolete? No. Even in the gospels we have Jesus mentioning repentance and faith at different portions of Scripture. The point is that we need to be able to, once again, systematically look at Scripture in order for us to develop an all-inclusive conclusion regarding what the Bible says about this topic. And, for the most part, Peter’s call to salvation in Acts 2:38 is a holistic summary of what is involved in salvation, but he does not make baptism the emphasis for regeneration, nor was that his intention as we shall soon see in coming passages.  

Peter and the Lame Man

In Acts 3, Peter heals a lame man at the Beautiful Gate by Solomon’s porch. When the people ran together to see this (v 11), Peter began to preach Jesus and the resurrection. Starting in verse 16, Peter reveals that it is “through faith in His name” and “faith which comes through Him” that this man was healed. Then Peter tells the crowd in verses 19-21:

Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”

Afterward, in chapter 4, the Sadducees took Peter and John into custody, and the Scripture says in verse 4:

“However, many of those who heard the word believed
; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”

Question: What was emphasized in the salvation message of Peter on both these passages? You got it! Faith/belief and repentance. If Peter wanted to emphasize baptism, don’t you think he would have included it in his message? If Peter really believed that baptism was necessary for salvation, and was staunch about it like those who hold to BR, this would have been the opportunity to make that plain, but he whiffed it. Not only that, in verse 4, Luke records that it was those who “heard the word believed.” No mention of baptism.

In all fairness, even if baptism were mentioned, faith/belief would still precede it. And once again, it would solidify that emphasis for salvation is on whether someone possesses faith in order to be baptized (or even while being baptized), and is THE condition upon which persons are converted. Furthermore, in continuing to show the pattern of Peter’s preaching, we will see that he does not stress baptism as the “necessity” for regeneration as many would think.


Peter in Samaria 

This portion of Acts is indeed a very interesting one. We have Phillip preaching the gospel there, and after seeing the miracles performed, they believed and then were baptized (v 12). Acts 8 also points out how even the Sorcerer who was revered there (Simon) “believed.” I placed that word believe in quotations marks because later on that will be examined. However, notice how belief is once again the prerequisite to baptism. But also notice how the Scripture makes this conversion event among the people of Samaria a bit “unusual” for both sides of this baptism debate. It states from verses 14-17:

“Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them.
They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

This, in my opinion, is the only exception when talking about receiving the Holy Spirit. What I mean is, only the apostleship had the authority to anoint others with the Holy Spirit during their lifetime. However, it wasn’t entirely dependent upon them to anoint others with the Holy Spirit (as we will soon see in Peter sermon to the Gentiles). Moreover, there is a bit a Jewish context here as well. Because in the Old Testament, people were anointed with oil and/or by laying on of hands, perhaps that is what is transpiring here with the Samaritans, who are of mixed Jewish heritage. Nevertheless, whenever it seemed right to administer the gift of the Holy Spirit is when it was recorded that such a transaction occurred. That judgment is not revealed in Scripture, nor is it necessary to expound on such a judgment.

What is important to note is the reality that this Scripture throws a wrench in BR as well as seemingly those who oppose it. Why? Because how does a group of people believe, get baptized, and yet not possess the Holy Spirit? Essentially, they waited for John and Peter to arrive. Yet, this makes the BR debate even more interesting because there is a recorded moment in history when there was baptism and no regeneration, as well as, recorded faith with no regeneration. What’s the deal?

When you look at this passage of Scripture meticulously, you will notice that Simon the Sorcerer is a highlighted person in this text other than Peter. Simon may have continued with Phillip and was amazed at the miracles that were accomplished, leading to his “belief” and baptism, but it wasn’t genuine faith. Moreover, he was so captivated by the ability that Peter had to give the Holy Spirit that he attempted to buy the ability with money (v 20). This is not a good sign, and Peter hones in on his character. No doubt, because Simon was a sorcerer, he thought that these miracles were magick (spelled like that purposefully) that could be purchased and practiced just like in his previous occupation (v 19). But Peter calls Simon to repent, and says that he was still “bound by iniquity” (v 23). Also, if you notice too, Simon didn’t pray to the LORD for forgiveness, but asked Peter to do so for him (v 24). Another observation is that Simon is not recorded as receiving the Holy Spirit either, which helps to prove this point that we wasn’t truly a believer, and my next two points.

First, this chapter is set up like two other chapters in Scripture: John chapter 6 and 8. To be brief, John chapter 6 reveals how Jesus, after he had fed the 5,000, exposes those whom said they are followers of Christ, and yet turn out to be frauds. After much exposition on how He is the bread of life, the Jews were greatly offended and it says in John 6:66, “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” Notice how the word disciples is used here to describe people who at one time were following Christ, but because of the words of Christ, turned back. Furthermore, in John 8 starting in verse 13, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees and Jews, and debated with them concerning Himself, His resurrection, and about being a true disciple of Christ. It was in verse 30 that the Bible stated that “many believed on Him,” but when Jesus challenged those who professed to believe, about 28 verses later, they wanted to stone Him! This shows that there are possible occurrences in Scripture when the words believe and disciples were used to describe an individual (Like Judas) or a group, but the good fruit that comes with genuine faith was non-existent.

Second, if we use Acts 15 as a reference concerning how the Holy Spirit in the New Testament operates, we see Peter giving an exegesis of what happened when he first preached to Gentiles (another sermon of Peter’s we will explore later). If you remember in Acts 10, Peter preached his first sermon to Gentiles, and it is stated that “while Peter was still speaking…the Holy Spirit fell upon them” (v 44). In Acts 15, Peter reveals that the reason why this happened was because “God knows the heart” and that the Holy Spirit was given to them as it was given to the apostles “purifying their hearts by faith” (v 8-9). Wow! Not only does this reveal why Simon the sorcerer never received the gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands by Peter, but it also reveals that faith, once again, is the active ingredient to one’s salvation, not baptism. Thus, this is the reason why the people of Samaria could also receive it, because all those who receive the Holy Spirit do so by faith. Although it is unusual that they had to wait, they nevertheless could not receive the Holy Spirit, even by the apostle’s hands, unless faith was present. Moreover, it shows how the Holy Spirit in Acts 10 is recorded as sovereignly descending upon a people prior to baptism, not during. If baptism was essential to regeneration (being the active agent by which the Holy Spirit descends upon a believer), once again, this doesn’t just throw a wrench in BR, but a whole toolbox! But, there is more to be told of Peter’s sermon to the Gentiles in Acts 10.


Peter and Cornelius

When you read about Peter preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 10), you first see Peter receiving a vision concerning things clean and unclean (v 9-15), and a Gentile by the name of Cornelius receiving and angelic message to look for Peter (v 1-8). The reference concerning the clean and unclean was to let Peter know that he must preach to the Gentiles (v 24-29). After Peter preaches Jesus and the resurrection, the end of it was recorded as saying in verse 43:

“To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes
in Him will receive remission of sins.”

Now, if Peter wanted to stress baptism for regeneration, now would be the perfect time, but he doesn’t. He instead says that those that believe receive “remission of sins.” This is almost the same wording as in Acts 2:38, except this time repentance is exchanged with belief and no baptism is mentioned. Then again, in all fairness, the Holy Spirit did descend upon them before they could be commanded to baptism (v 44-48). Nevertheless, this provides evidence that baptism is not the primary ordinance by which one is regenerated, since these believers were regenerated before they stepped foot in water. However, this does not stop proponents of BR, because Peter still commanded that they be baptized.

It is evident that Peter commanded baptism to the hearers of the gospel. The command to be baptized, however, does not automatically translate that unless baptism is accomplished they are not truly saved. Remember that unless there is faith (the perquisite to baptism) there is no need to baptize. And if they are truly saved, why wouldn’t they obey? Since Peter saw the evidence of God saving them through the Holy Spirit, the next meaningful and commanded step is to bring them to water. If water baptism were to be the primary, absolute, or only means by which one is to be regenerated, this portion of Scripture, and many others, would have noted that. But commanding Gentiles to be baptized emphasizes the importance of being obedient to the ordinance, not the deciding factor in whether or not one is regenerated by the Holy Spirit. BR would have us think that because Peter commanded it, it was “necessary” in the sense that baptism is the make-or-break deal of regeneration and salvation. What we actually find, though, is that faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ is the hinge by which the door of salvation opens, and the Holy Spirit is the sovereign provider of the gift of eternal life when that faith is present.

Futhermore (yes, there is more), it is worth noting that when Peter gave a report in Jerusalem concerning his being with Gentiles in Acts 11, he emphasizes how God saved them with the Holy Spirit, and how “God gave them the same gift he gave us when we first believed…” (v 17). It was then that the Jewish believers responded, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (v 18). Notice here that belief is again emphasized, not baptism. Also, notice that the Jews stated that it is God who grants repentance through the Holy Spirit. This is too important of a point to pass up. I will briefly expound my thoughts now. 

As Peter stated, “Who [am] I that I could withstand God!” (v 17) If we remember in the first part of our study, one of the themes of the book of Acts was God’s sovereignty in salvation of Jews and Gentiles. This passage is a golden depiction of the crossover that is about to take place in the preaching of the gospel between Jews to Gentiles. Also, when you look at what we have studied thus far, we see God sovereignly regenerating individuals by faith, and not by the waters of baptism. To attest that unless baptism is acted upon that there is no regeneration that can take place (or anything along those lines), is to withstand God! God is the active person to our faith, and the granter of repentance to our hearts! Since we are only looking through the book of Acts at the moment, I have tied my hands to the multitude of Scriptures that can be pointed to in order to account for salvation by repentance and faith through the inner working of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts. Nevertheless, the book of Acts is sufficient to debunk any propensity to affirm this doctrine of baptismal regeneration, and to reveal how Peter, Paul, or any other Scripture in Acts emphasizes God’s sovereign salvation by faith more than baptism.


Peter and the Council at Jerusalem

In this final point concerning Peter’s theology and pattern of preaching, we see a sermonette delivered to a council in Jerusalem in Acts 15.There were certain men that came from Judea that taught that unless people are circumcised they cannot be saved (v 1). After Paul and Barnabas argued with them (v 2), they determined to go to Jerusalem with this question. It was at Jerusalem that the apostles and elders debate this issue, and the Scripture states that after much dispute, Peter stood up to speak. This is what he says:

“Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe
. 8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

As we already mentioned, Peter emphasizes purifying of the heart by faith. He also reveals that it is “through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” that the Gentiles will be saved just like they were saved. It is in this proclamation that Peter makes no indication that baptism is necessary to the being the essential ingredient to one’s regeneration. If baptism was truly the primary agent by which Christians are saved, why wasn’t that noted as being the evidence and means of one’s regeneration? Since circumcision and the administration of it was on the table, and since some were saying that unless one is circumcised they cannot be saved, if baptism was THE means in which we receive salvation, now is the time to speak up and make it clear! Now would be the best time for Peter or any other apostolic authority to make history and say, “We don’t need circumcision for salvation because we have baptism.” However, you don’t see and read anything of the sort. What we do see is a high emphasis on faith and the grace of Christ. This portion of Scripture not only refutes the notion that baptism is covenant sign that is equal to Old Testament sign of circumcision (specifically dealing with infant baptism which believes we should baptize children in the same likeness the Old Testament saints circumcised children), but it also destroys the ideology unless someone is baptized they cannot be saved. Also, this portion of Scripture proves that Peter did not affirm baptism as being necessary for salvation when he mentioned it in Acts 2:38.

Another point needs to be made here. Notice that Peter erases the “distinction” between Jews and Gentiles by saying that God made no distinction because it is by faith in which we are purified. In other words, without faith, we would not receive the Holy Spirit whether Jew or Gentile. Peter inevitably exegetes his understanding of how salvation works, and how it is the same for every nation. If there was a time in which Peter could have made history by emphasizing baptism as being the make-it-or-break-it deal for regeneration, it is now! However, Peter does not emphasize baptism. Not one mention of it, at all, in this portion of Scripture! If I were a baptismal regenerationist, I would say that Peter blew it (again). But, since he is an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, appointed by Him to preach to the nations (and of course baptizing them, yet not without faith playing the primary role) not only was Peter inspired to speak up for all of church history to ponder this subject, but the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to record it in pen so that men for all ages may read and see that BR is not evident in Peter’s theology. 

Note: Some baptismal regenerationists will point out that the reason why Peter doesn’t mention being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38 as prescribed in Matthew 28 is because baptizing in Jesus’ name is implied within the Trinity. Seeing that all persons of the Trinity are one, to record baptism in the name of Christ alone without the explicit mention of the Trinity would be a non-issue. I agree. Also, since faith was not mentioned, it is concluded that repentance implies faith. No problems there either. However, when we systematically review all the Scriptures where Peter is involved in the salvation process, especially when he is preaching and exegeting regeneration, one can say that what Peter states versus what he actually meant in Acts 2:38 is also implied. In other words, now that we see Peter’s theology more clearly in Acts 15 concerning the regeneration of Jews and Gentiles, we can confidently say that in that call to salvation in Acts 2:38, it is implied that emphasis is on repentance toward Christ, and that the necessary consequence that follows is baptism. Not that remission of sin hangs in the balance upon baptism. 

(Continue to Part 3 Concerning Paul's Theology)