Although I would like to hang my hat up on the rack concerning Peter’s theology confirming salvation by faith, unfortunately, the apostle Paul is also used to support this erroneous doctrine. And the main portion that is used to do this is Paul’s testimony in Acts 22:16. It says:
“And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord”
When a baptismal regenerationist reads this, they assume that being baptized is the means by which a person’s sins are “washed away.” However, this is easily refuted when one understands that, in the Greek, “baptized” and “arise” are connected, meanwhile “wash away” and “calling on” are too. I will explain.
Greek verbs sometimes have participles attached to them. Participles can have various functions, but one of them is to, in a sense, “modify” the verb in its context. The participles in this text are “arise” and “calling on” the name of the Lord. The main verbs are “be baptized” and “wash away” your sins. In English, one would think that washing away your sins is accomplished by the baptism, but in fact, because of the relationship of the participles in the Greek to their corresponding verbs, it is “arise” modifying “be baptized” and “calling on” the name of the Lord which modifies the verb “wash away.” In essence, this means that in order for Paul to be baptized, he as to get up (arise), locate some water, and be baptized. In order for his sins to be “washed away,” he has to “call on the name of the Lord.” Simple, but it doesn’t stop there.
Paul further expounds his salvation experience when talking to King Agrippa in Acts 26. After revealing to the king why Christ called him in the first place, Paul states how he was “not disobedient to the heavenly calling” by preaching to the Gentiles “that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.” If Paul, like Peter, wanted to emphasize baptism for salvation, here’s his chance. Unfortunately, he too failed to get that message across to King Agrippa. No doubt, however, that partaking of baptism is a work “befitting repentance.” Yet notice, once again, how everything points back to our profession of faith and all else should remain a necessary consequence (or evidence) of it. Furthermore, There are numerous times when Paul was recorded preaching in the book of Acts. In many of those situations, if Paul believed that baptism was indeed necessary for salvation, surely there would be some indication that regeneration is dependent upon partaking of this ordinance, right?
(See also Acts 20:21; Luke 3:8 concerning works following repentance)
Paul’s Sermon at Antioch
Even before the council of Acts 15 where Peter gave us a magnificent theological treatise of salvation, Paul was busy being the evangelist that he was. In Acts 13, Luke reveals that while in Antioch in Pisidia he preached in the synagogue there when one of the rulers asked if anyone has any “word of exhortation for the people.” That’s a big mistake to ask that when you got a gospel preacher in the room. It was then that Paul did what most preachers before him have done, and that was expounding on the Old Testament and how it all pointed to the fulfillment in Christ. In wrapping up his sermon, he says in verse 38-39:
“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
The term “justified” is a legal term found in the book of Romans and other portions of Scripture. It’s a word that depicts a declaration by God in which a sinner is declared legally righteous before Him. Paul is no foreigner to this terminology, and it is really this word alone that removes the necessity of baptism for regeneration. Since justification by baptism is not found anywhere in Scripture, we can really hang up our hats here because the New Testament reveals that is only by faith that one is justified before God (Read Romans 4), and our works are what justifies us before men (Read James 2:14-24). But, I digress.
When Paul preached in this passage, he clearly makes a case that it is by believing in Christ that one is justified from “all things” which the law of Moses could not justify you. This is similar to the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 in that the custom of the Old Testament circumcision was trying to be “yoked” upon believers. If baptism was necessary, and was an equal replacement for circumcision, Paul could have just mentioned baptism being sufficient for the forgiveness (or remission, same Greek word) of sins. But he didn’t. He makes it clear that it is “by Him” (Christ) “everyone who believes is justified.” I also find it interesting is that later on in verse 48 that Luke emphasizes that all those that were appointed to eternal life “believed.” If Luke wanted to emphasize salvation being contingent on baptism, you would think he would have purposefully made the time to explicitly mention it.
Paul and the Philippian Jailer
Another example of Paul’s baptismal theology can be found when he was imprisoned at Philippi. As Paul and Silas were praying, it says in Acts 16:26 that there was a “great earthquake” and because of this, all the doors busted open. The result was that when the keeper of the prison noticed this, he was going to kill himself because the penalty is death if anyone escapes. Paul reassures him that no one has escaped and to not kill himself (v 28). It was then that the jailer ran into Paul and Silas’ cell and cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” Here it is. Here’s Paul’s and Silas’ chance to give their theology concerning salvation once again and win one for BR. They said in verse 31:
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
I guess Paul blew it again. Notice again how he emphasizes believing on Jesus Christ for salvation, and baptism is only mentioned afterward in verse 33 without as much as a jot or tittle giving credit to it as a means of regeneration or salvation.
Paul and the 12 Disciples of John
Finally (by that I really mean the finale is in the book of Acts for Paul’s case), when we go to Acts 19, we see another peculiar passage the reveals some interesting points that baptismal regenerationists try to capitalize on. In this portion of Scripture, we have Paul arriving at Ephesus reportedly finding “disciples” there. Later on, we find out that these men were really disciples of John the Baptist, but nevertheless looking for Messiah as John’s baptism pointed to. But the interesting part is when Paul asked these men if they “received the Holy Spirit when they believed?” As if to say that faith/belief is the means by which one receives the gift of the Holy Spirit (just like Peter stated in Acts 15). But then you have the very next verse when Paul asks “Into what then were you baptized?” It is here that those that hold to BR think that because Paul asked this question immediately after the previous question that baptism is linked with receiving the Holy Spirit.
In any interrogation, sometimes you ask related questions that really only try to dig deeper in order to find an answer. When Paul asked into what then were these men baptized, it is only because they failed to give an acceptable answer concerning whether they received the Holy Spirit when they professed to believe. If they are called disciples, and profess to believe, and they told me that they never heard of the Holy Spirit, I would ask them what denomination they were associated with (or something like that)? Paul asks a similar question because, quite frankly, who you are identifying yourself with in baptism gives an indication of what you know theologically, who’s teaching or authority you are associating yourself with, or what/whom you are believing in. That is why Paul makes mention of the children of Israel being “baptized” into Moses (1 Cor. 10:2). When Paul discovered that these men did not receive the Holy Spirit when they “believed” (notice the stress is on belief for reception of the Holy Spirit), it would only be logical (in their time) to ask what baptism they received, because baptism points back to our confession of faith. Then, in declaring that they only knew of John, once they were told to “believe” on Jesus Christ (because that is who John’s baptism was pointing to), it was then that they were baptized under the authority and name of Christ. Furthermore, notice that the Holy Spirit only came when the apostle Paul laid hands on them to receive Him. This smells familiar to Acts 8 with Peter and the people of Samaria. If baptism was THE means by which one receives the Holy Spirit and is converted, why would Paul need to lay hands on them? Of course this was partly answered when I expounded on Acts 8, but the same question needs to be asked here for emphasis. Also, why would Paul first ask these men if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed if BR is what is really taught in Scripture? There’s too much inconsistency here if you ask me.
(Continue to Part 4 Concerning the author of Acts, Luke, and Apollos)