Luke, the Author of Acts
I do not want to be unfair by saying that belief is the only thing that Luke wishes to record in the writing of Acts. There are times when baptism is presented (although not emphasized as being redemptive) when recording certain events. Much of those we have covered already since they were the “Hollywood texts” as I like to call them (because they get the most attention). But there are a few others where Luke records baptism and they are as follows:
The Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:38-39), Lydia at Philippi (Acts 16:14-15), and the Corinthians (Acts 18:8).
In every one of these texts, we have Luke recording baptism. However, continue to notice that nowhere, in any of these Scriptures, is baptism noted for its regenerative qualities, nor is there the smallest mention that they received the Holy Spirit only when they were baptized.
For the Ethiopian Eunuch (no matter which translation you have), you see a person who is eager to follow Christ and desires to fulfill whatever Phillip was taught concerning Him (it is obvious here the Phillip mentions baptism). But you must grasp the fact that Luke doesn’t record any descent of the Holy Spirit upon this Eunuch after he receives baptism. What you do see, however, is the Holy Spirit miraculously rapturing Phillip to another location!
Regarding Lydia at Philippi, the text clearly reveals that she was a worshipper of God, obviously as He is understood underneath the revelation of the Old Testament. But then the Scripture says that it was God that was opening her heart to “heed the things spoken by Paul.” This opening and heeding that Luke records here is similar to the situation when Jesus met some disciples on the road to Damascus (Luke 24:45). In mentioning this, we have a supernatural occurrence by God in which a person is able to receive and respond to the preaching of the gospel. Although not explicitly mentioned here (like it is in other passages), the fact that Luke makes the effort to record what God is doing in the heart prior to baptism once again solidifies the point that salvation is work of God. If Lydia would not have “heeded” the things preached by Paul, there would have been no need to be baptized as it shows in verse 15. On the flip side, if Luke really wanted to reiterate baptism as the primary means by which one is truly regenerated and received the Holy Spirit, he could’ve done so here, but didn’t (again).
Finally, when you come to the Corinthians, there is really nothing there in the text that I have not already made an argument for. Just highlight all my previous expositions up to this point, copy, and then paste them here.
Note: At some point a baptismal regenerationist may say that there are times when faith was not emphasized too. In saying this, they wish to turn my arguments against me. However, what I am saying is that where faith is implicitly assumed (like the case of Lydia), it is only because of the explicit texts (like Acts 15 and others) that we can rightly assume that faith was present. On the contrary, though, there isn’t one iota mentioned in Scripture where baptism is the means of regeneration. Also, in the book of Acts, if baptism was as essential to salvation as proponents of BR wish to make it, Luke, Peter, or Paul certainly don’t feel the same way. If they did, they would have (or should have) consistently portrayed that in their message. But they didn’t. We interpret the unclear with the clear. The problem seems to be, though, that texts like Acts 2:38 and others seem “clear” to a baptismal regenerationist, meanwhile others (like the ones I pointed out already) are not. Weird. If we are to take all Scriptures into consideration, we would find that the conclusion of BR does not harmonize with other Scriptures.
A Dead Horse and Apollos
If the reader is wondering at this point as to why I would go through all this work to try and refute BR, it is because there has been a resurgence of believers to the International Church of Christ, and also because there are many who still believe (whether ignorantly or willingly) that baptism (in any form to any age) is the reason why they are a Christian. It is my hope that this very long, thorough article will equip saints to defend their faith, as well as, Lord willing, deliver some from this erroneous theology. But if you thought the dead horse was beaten senseless, I apologize because I have just one more thud I’d like to deliver to close this book of Acts study.
Apollos is another one of those “anomalies” in Scripture. Acts 18:24 is where we are introduced to this man who was “mighty in the Scriptures.” From verses 24 through 28, we clearly see a depiction of a man whose faith is evident. The discrepancy here it seems is that he only knew the baptism of John. After Aquilla and Priscilla “explained to him the way of God more accurately,” Apollos soon after was received by the brethren in Achaia where the Bible teaches us that he “greatly helped those who believed through grace.” I think it is worth noting one more time how Luke emphasizes that it was through grace that the believers there believed, and how Apollos is not even recorded as being baptized in Christ, at all! In all of Scripture there is not one mention of him receiving baptism in Christ. We can assume he did, but even in assuming he did we cannot assume that it was because he was baptized in Christ that he was regenerated. However, just like James can confirm, we see a man whose works justify his faith.
If I believed in BR, and was recording this event, I would have been fuming at Aquilla and Priscilla wondering why they didn’t explicitly preach regeneration through baptism. And if I was Aquilla and Priscilla, I would have made it my purpose to make sure Apollos was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ lest he perish in hell. However, I don’t think that kind of theological error was in Luke or Aquilla and Priscilla’s mind at the time. Sure, we don’t know what exactly was said to Apollos, and we can’t be sure that we know Luke’s reaction in recording this. But what we do know is that baptismal regeneration could not have been as absolutely necessary as those who support it say, because why would Luke leave such an important detail out once again?
In conclusion to our study in Acts, time after time in the book of Acts we see faith as the primary agent of salvation, and baptism is simply a consequence of that. Yes it was commanded, and yes it was administered to many who professed to believe. But throughout all of that there isn’t one explicit jot or tittle mentioning the Holy Spirit regenerating a person through baptism. Not one! You would think if this subject was important as baptismal regenerationists make it, there would be at least one explicit reference to receiving the Holy Spirit because of, or by means of, baptism. But there isn’t. It is only because the International Church of Christ, some Roman Catholics, Apostolics, Oneness Pentecostals and other denominations cherry pick versus without systematically looking at all the others that they are able to make the theological claim that they do. And because the other verses they point to outside the book of Acts are used to cross-reference their claim, I must, and will, deal with those too in order to reveal why their interpretation is inaccurate (as if Peter’s exposition in Acts 15 isn’t enough).
A Little Intermission
I would like to make a personal admonition by stating that baptism is indeed a beautiful thing. I, personally, think that there is a spiritual application as well as a mysterious union that is associated with Christ and our identifying with Him through baptism. However, whatever spiritual quality baptism may have, I know, and hopefully by now you do to, that faith is THE means by which all the benefits of Christ are applied to me via the Holy Spirit. Even though I may have a personal conviction that there is no doubt some spiritual benefit to baptism, I cannot, nor does the Scriptures, affirm that God has designated baptism as the means by which one is regenerated. As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, by making baptism necessary, you essential make faith look to baptism for salvation. And even though there are many who believe in BR who would profess that they still trust God and the means He has provided in order to be saved, when one says that unless the ordinance is administered, they don’t possess salvation, it would be impossible not to depend on that as the assurance of salvation. Of course, this will not be a noticeable thought process to those who hold to BR, but it is, in reality, what is being depended upon for salvation.
With all that said, I would like to emphasize that I believe baptism identifies believers with Christ. When administered, there will be a public proclamation of union with Christ, but only based off of our faith in Him. I stress once again that baptism points back to our faith, and is dependent upon it. Any mention of baptism in the New Testament, if it is not in reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, is an indirect way of mentioning our faith and suffering with Christ. Any union with Christ by means of baptism can only be in reference to faith, which the Holy Spirit acknowledges, and is by no means the reason why we are regenerated in the first place.
(Continue to Part 5 concerning being buried with Christ by baptism)