There are 91 verses in the NASB Bible version that talk about various forms of baptism. The word just means immersion and you can be baptized in the Spirit, in water, surviving the flood or red sea crossing, or even baptized into literal death (Mark 10:38-39). Water baptism has the symbology of being crucified with Jesus, dying to sin and raising from the dead, with a new life that is cleansed from sin to live for God. So everyone agrees that there is at least some symbolism involved. But some people take 7 of the verses, that talk about the forgiveness with baptism, very literal and say that baptism is actually the point that God saves you and forgives you of sin, in some churches, or of your “original sin” in other churches. This even leads some churches to practice infant baptism to make sure they’re saved right away. But I don’t think this holds water (pun intended). I admit the 7 verses are unclear, but I think 3 of them are just symbology and 4 of them say that baptism is just one of many required obedient steps we take, after being saved by faith. I interpret them this way because being saved by faith without any works is an important theme that is carefully and fervently guarded in the Bible in many places. Another reason is that Cornelius clearly got the gift of the Holy Spirit before baptism. This isn’t being drawn or convicted by the Spirit, as He does all lost people. But this is the actual filling of the Sprit, complete with the gift of tongues. Peter said it was the same filling they got at Pentecost. And at the Jerusalem Council Peter cites this filling to show that God saved the Gentiles by faith.
7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” Acts 15:7-11
To clarify this discussion, the five beliefs on water baptism could be grouped as follows and I advocate #3.
I believe we are saved by our faith and our confession as Romans 10:8-13 (below) clearly says. The context of this chapter is clearly about the simplicity and ease of salvation without any significant effort on our part. This makes perfect sense when we see how loving God is and how much he wants all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4 and many more verses here). As we see in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), He runs to the repentant son. So it makes sense that God would forgive people when they have faith in Him and take that first sincere step towards him, not make them wait until they can be baptized, which sometimes takes at least a few days to make arrangements. And there’s no reason to make them wait.
But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:8-13
This specific first step can also be called justification and we begin a new life with God as our loving father and Lord when we come to Him in this simple step. So I believe He starts to work on us to obey Him in a long process of spiritual maturity. That’s why the Bible says many things are required, including baptism – they are required later. You can see this discussed in James ch 2. (I have a whole article on this topic of required obedience after justification). But you can’t make any of these things, like baptism, required for actual salvation (justification) or you’ll be denying the faith verses like Romans 10 above. I believe this “baptism justification” (as I’ll call it, item 4 on the list above) comes from confusing two sets of verses: 1) four verses that do indicate baptism is required (but just after justification by faith) and 2) an overly literal interpretation of the symbology of baptism in three other verses. The symbolic verses do make things confusing, as they often do with other topics, and I know very godly people, good friends of mine, who believe this. However, when you look at it all in context, you’ll see the difference between required baptism (after salvation) and baptism justification.
What causes people to believe in salvation at baptism:
1) Scriptures that teach baptism is required
These four scriptures show that baptism is commanded but not that it’s what actually initially saves you. Here’s the first one:
3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:3-6.
This verse may actually not be talking about baptism because it is clearly in context of natural birth vs spiritual birth, so in context the “water” seems to be talking about natural birth. See John 3:12 a few verses later and also 1 Corinthians 15:42-49. And since Jesus is just beginning to talk to this man (vs 3 above is His first sentence) and hasn’t mentioned anything about faith, repentance or asking God’s forgiveness, it doesn’t seem likely that he can just be baptized and enter the kingdom. So even if you interpret the water here as baptism, it must just be one of many steps you take. There’s nothing to indicate it’s the one single step where you actually enter the kingdom of God. When you look at other verses with very similar format it’s even clearer. Notice the similarity of this verse to these below, which emphasize other aspects of obedience, and see how some of these are clearly lifetime actions and you enter the Kingdom at the end of life.
and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3
Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 1 Cor 15:50
For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Ephesians 5:5,6
All of these are referring to entering the kingdom and each gives a unique aspect of the Christian life that is required. You have to be careful not to zero-in on just one verse and say that’s the one action where you enter the kingdom. The 2nd verse used for baptism justification is also like that:
“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for [or into] the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38
Are these the only two things required for salvation? Is this all you have to do? Or are they just two things of many things? Where’s faith? Where’s asking forgiveness? Where’s taking up the cross, feeding the poor, and many other commandments? And here again, we are helped by nearby verses that have similar structure but mention other aspects of obedience:
Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you Acts 3:19, 20.
See, this nearby verse is in a very similar context to the previous verse and talks about wiping sins away but there is no mention of baptism here. It is talking about other aspects of obedience. All the steps of obedience are not included in each verse. So I think these verses make the case for baptism being one of the required steps in the Christian life but not the actual point where you are saved.
It should also be mentioned that Acts 2:38 could very well say “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ INTO the forgiveness of your sins” because this is actually the primary meaning of this Greek word eis (G1519). In this case the verse would be more symbolic, using the same word in 1 Corinthians 10:2 which says the Israelites were baptized into Moses via the cloud and the sea.
These next two verses that are used for baptism justification, are also just mentioning baptism as one of the steps of obedience that saves us.
eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 3:21
16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. Mark 16:16 (Note that this is in the disputed add-on section for the abrupt ending of Mark)
Here’s a verse that just says you have to call on His name to be saved:
And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Acts 2:21
This is just one of many verses about being saved by faith: John 3:16,18; Romans 10:13; Luke 12:8; Mark 1:15; Romans 4:5-11; Romans 4:24-5:2; Galatians 3:2. I heard there’s about 470 total. Those who propose baptism justification will say these 400 verses that omit baptism are just mentioning one aspect of salvation and there are many other things assumed. But these 4 verses they’re giving need to have things added too. You can’t say baptism alone saves you unless you say calling alone saves you. No, they are all just emphasizing one thing and yes they do have other things assumed. One critical point is if it’s talking about that initial justification or the overall lifelong process of being saved. So you always need to take all the scripture into account and not just a single verse. These four verses that mention baptism are just showing that it is one step of obedience.
Many times a verse seems to teach something, and all kinds of cults and denominations will focus on those verses – everything from modalism (God and Jesus are one person) to eternal security while living in sin. But you have to look at all the scriptures together. Now that’s not to scare someone off from starting this journey of reading the Bible because they’re afraid they won’t interpret the truth. To a person with a sincere heart and conscience, the Bible is easy to follow. Love God (which means abhor evil) and love others. Then read the Bible in books and chapters as it was meant to be read, not isolated verses. You’ll eventually naturally obey the clear scriptures to be baptized and whatever else. And if, hypothetically as the worst-case scenario, it is that salvation does happen at baptism, then God will keep you safe until then as you sincerely seek Him. He’s certainly fair and just. But if we start trying to make ridged dogmatic absolute doctrines from isolated individual verses that don’t fit with other verses, then it’ll cause conflict, especially if we feel strongly that we need to convince other Christians. Then it starts people into debate and detailed examination of the scriptures and balancing them to other scriptures like I’m doing here. This article shows how the Bible can easily be misunderstood if you don’t take all scripture into account. I started jotting down all the verses that can be misunderstood. I’ll update as I go, but just up to Matthew 24 there are 12. And they are serious things like teaching reincarnation, predestination, Gentiles are dogs, and keeping the Old Testament law. That’s one confusing verse in every other chapter so far. This shows why there are so many disagreements within Christianity and why it’s so important to balance all scripture and not zero-in on one verse even if it seems crystal clear. Let’s just take one for example. Reincarnation is clearly not true as we see from many verses that talk about judgment after death. But Matthew 17:12,13 clearly teaches that Elijah came as John the Baptist. But it’s not reincarnation. In the Bible the concept of a proxy seems to be really strong. If you send someone on your behalf, then it can be said that you came to them. John seems to be Elijah’s proxy. This can be totally misunderstood if you don’t know more scripture. And again, this isn’t to scare a new person from reading the Bible on his own. As long as he doesn’t go too far making a doctrine with one isolated verse, no matter how clear it is, he’ll be fine. Then in time he’ll see this proxy idea.
2) Symbolic verses
The next three verses that cause confusion are symbolic verses. I believe baptism is a commanded sacrament for a public identification of following Jesus and repenting of sin, with the symbology of being crucified with Him and dying and raising from the dead with a double meaning of also dying to ourselves and living for God (cf. Romans 6, Colossians 2:11,12 and Colossians 3:1). That’s why it’s so important. But it’s symbolic. Protestants don’t have any problem taking the clear commands of Jesus to “eat His flesh” as symbolic sacraments. Likewise, the washing of sins during baptism could also be a commanded symbolic sacrament. No one believes that water actually washes sins away. So it’s obvious that there’s a certain amount of symbology. The Bible constantly uses symbology. 1 John 1:7 says Jesus’ blood washes our sins away but we’re sure not going to take that literally and incorporate it into baptism. There are references in the 4th century to Christians literally stripping all clothes during baptism (thankfully they separated the genders) and putting on a special garment as they come up to fulfil Galatians 3 to be clothed with Christ. So you can see how people can go too far. But there are no verses forcing us to take anything literal in the symbology of baptism, either of being dead with Christ and raised with him or of washing our sins away. A teaching like this would be paramount doctrine, which the Bible never hides away in an obscure verse that could be confused as symbolic.
Here are the three verses using symbology. Notice the first two might not even be related to this discussion because they are talking more about living in the Spirit and not the flesh, than forgiveness of sins and the point of salvation. See Galatians 5:16-26, Ephesians 4:17-24 and Romans 7 and 8 for more on this topic.
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Galatians 3:27
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. Romans 6:1-7
Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name. Acts 22:16
This previous verse is particularly used for baptism justification because they think Paul made the initial steps of salvation, but was not saved until baptism a few days later. But if you look at the passage, Paul does not take the steps to salvation when Jesus talks to him. Yes he believed and repented of course. But Paul did not ask forgiveness or receive the Spirit, etc. Jesus merely told him to wait for Ananias and he would be told what to do. So Ananias laid hands on him, filling him with the Sprit, and then baptized him with the symbolic phrase of baptism washing his sins away. The point of salvation isn’t specifically mentioned, but receiving the Spirit is and I’ll talk more later about how the Spirit is an indication of salvation when I talk about Cornelius. Here’s the parallel passage to Acts 22 above that gives more details:
6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do… 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; Acts 9:6, 17, 18
It should also be noted that in the verse in Acts 22:16, the washing of sins is in the 2nd part of the verse which is a compound sentence of two thoughts, and so washing sins is more connected to “calling on His name” which is a very common phrase in the Bible for salvation (e.g. Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13).
It’s interesting that this symbology of baptism is used loosely in other places too. 1 Peter 3:21 says the flood water, which saved 8 people, symbolizes baptism which now saves us. It says it’s a “appeal to God for a good conscience” just like you’d expect as a step of obedience. And obviously the flood was nothing like an immersion baptism. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 says in passing that the Israelites that passed thru the red sea were baptized into Moses and the sea. Again, this was nothing like an immersion baptism but Paul casually makes this passing statement without much further comment. And the Israelites were saved from the judgment of God by the blood on the doorposts and then later saved from the wrath of man via baptism in the sea.
Examples of quick baptism
Another source of confusion is that we see baptism often happened quickly in Acts, but we can’t define doctrine from it – like sharing our possessions which was also seen in Acts (this is called “common purse” and some people do take that as doctrine). It was done quickly because there is no reason not to take this first step of obedience, especially when evangelists are on the move. Yes baptism should be done quickly if possible. However the fine difference between belief in required baptism and baptism justification is how quickly you absolutely must be baptized. Weather, resources or political circumstances can make it very dangerous and difficult to be baptized right away. Perhaps if you just had a week you could make the arrangements. But if you truly aren’t saved until then, then you’d do whatever it took because you wouldn’t know if you’d make it a week. It just doesn’t seem to fit the Bible and certainly doesn’t fit the faith alone theme of Romans 4 and 10. And many people in persecuted countries have been killed in prison or in some other way before they were baptized.
Problems with salvation at baptism
Not saved by works
This is a very strong teaching in the Bible, as I mentioned at the beginning of the article, so people will agree but say “Baptism is not a human work; it is the place where God does the work that only God can do.” It’s a “passive act of faith” rather than a “meritorious work”. Now, there may be a few people who don’t know much about the Bible who would say “I hope my good works outweigh my bad works so I can go to heaven.” A person like that is actually relying on his works to get him into heaven. That’s what a “meritorious work” would refer to. But most people in the church, any church – even liberal churches, know that our works absolutely can not save us. There’s not much argument there. The only question is what do we do so God will save us, both initially (justification) and unto death. The typical liberal church will just say believe and that’s it, ever. My article on building your house on the rock addresses this critical error. But more conservative churches will agree that we are saved (justified) by faith but then obedience is required for salvation unto death. I’d put baptism into this 2nd stage of required obedience where works and obedience are clearly part of the Christian life. It should be our desire or there’s something wrong. But when you try to put baptism in the 1st stage of justification it absolutely breaks the strong teaching of being saved (justified) by faith alone. People might try to put baptism and faith into one, but there is clearly a step where a person believes in God, which if sincere has a repentant attitude that wants to obey, and then follows on in baptism. This is true even if in the best-case scenario where these are only minutes apart. So if baptism justification were true, the many scriptures would say we are saved by a believing repentant baptism or something like that, and certainly not put so much emphasis on faith alone because they are clearly separate. Now we can say we are saved by faith alone (saved at that point) and then baptism is a step of obedience with no problem. Someone might say if you truly have faith you will be baptized, but there again that is talking about obedience after salvation.
Notice how Paul in Romans 4 preaches the difference between faith vs. works in relation to circumcision, which he strongly condemns as required for salvation. And circumcision and baptism are actually more similar than it would seem. They are a physical act that you voluntarily do to allow God to do something. So baptism would seem like a similar work and equally condemned. It’s a natural conclusion.
As we know there were many foreshadowing’s of Jesus in the Old Testament. In Numbers 21:8,9 they were clearly healed by just looking at the snake as it was lifted up. And Jesus makes a direct comparison of this to believing in Him:
14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:14-16
The salvation of Cornelius and his friends and family doesn’t fit the baptism justification model. Cornelius was clearly a godly man who was obeying God. He’d gathered his friends and family and they were eagerly listening as Peter was preaching the gospel. Their hearts were right. So Peter explains that God accepts all who fear Him and do what he says, and that Jesus is the prophesied messiah and all who believe in Him will receive forgiveness of sins. Right then all the sudden they started speaking in tongues. The natural reading is they must have believed in Jesus at this point and got saved at this point. But this is a problem for the baptism justification idea because all this happened and then they got baptized.
So, just like Paul, Cornelius received the Spirit and then was baptized. Some say that they weren’t saved here but were just led by the Spirit, as the Spirit does in all unbelievers or can even influence wicked people, like Pharoah or the High Priest prophesying the death of Jesus (John 11:49-51). But Paul and Cornelius clearly received the Spirit after believing the gospel message. And Cornelius was clearly baptized or filled with the Spirit in the same way as the apostles were (Peter says this in Acts 10:47). So some admit that yes he fully got the Holy Spirit there, but he still wasn’t saved until baptism. Can you be filled with the Spirit with an evident gift of the Spirit and not saved?
Receiving the Spirit is a little bit of a mystery. Jesus’ disciples were presumably baptized, and Jesus declared the 11 of them clean (John 13:10,11, John 15:3) but they didn’t get the Spirit until Acts 2. The people in Acts 8:16 were actually baptized in the name of Jesus but didn’t get the spirit until the apostles came and laid their hands on them. The people in Acts 19:1-7 were called disciples so they must have been saved, but they too didn’t get the Spirit until Paul laid his hands on them, after they were rebaptized in the name of Jesus, with the understanding of the Spirit. Nowadays we are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit so this probably covers it. So there’s some confusion of when we get the Spriit but there’s no confusion that it’s after salvation. So though it seems you can be saved before getting the Spirit, there is no indication whatsoever that you can receive the Spirit and not be saved. Instead, these passages below seem pretty clear that the Spirit is associated with faith and salvation.
13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:13, 14
2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 6 Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. 10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:2-6
But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. John 7:39
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:12-15
5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:5-7
I’ll also point out that regardless of if Cornelius was saved at this point or not, this has to be in opposite order of what Peter said, showing that these events in Peter’s sermon are not in strict order.
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38
Here in Acts 2 Peter tells people to be baptized and then they’ll get the Holy Spirit but Cornelius unquestionably got the Holy Spirit and then was baptized. Like other verses, Peter is combining two aspects of obedience and giving the overall reward. It’s clearly not a specific formula. I always like to look at both sides, so I read an article (Dave Miller, 2022 referenced below) from the other side and here are what I believe is his explanation of this discrepancy. First he says that since Peter in his retelling of the account in Acts 11:4 says he gave it “in order”, then it means the “account in Acts 10 is not necessarily in strict order”. But there is no reason to think Acts 10 is not in chronological order. Though Acts 11 is more brief and not all the events are listed, all the events that are listed are in the same order. Furthermore, the only critical events to this discussion are the filling with the Spirit and baptism which must have come in that order because the filling surprised Peter and then he baptized them. There’s no doubt about that. This is clear in Acts 11 as well. So the whole “in order” argument is moot. So I didn’t see any good explanation for this difference of Peter’s sermon and the events with Cornelius.
And there’s another strong indication that Cornelius’ family were actually saved at that point of being filled with the Spirit, before baptism. Peter uses this filling at the council of Jerusalem to show that Gentiles are justified by faith. He cites their receiving tongues as proof that they were saved by faith at that point. His whole point is that they got saved right then without obeying the law.
6 The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” Acts 15:6-11
I did not see any explanation of or reference to this passage in Acts 15 anywhere on the Apologetics Press web site regarding the salvation and baptism of Cornelius (they have a search tool where you can search the whole site). As I understand it, the explanation they do give just for the Acts 10 and Acts 11 passages is that the gentiles had to hear the message Peter was going to give and the complete message was interrupted by this filling of the Holy Spirit, so they never had the opportunity to be saved. They say this filling was just proof that the “Gentiles had an equal right to enter the kingdom.” But here again this doesn’t make sense. Peter had already said at the beginning of his message that he “certainly understood” this.
Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. Acts 10:34, 35.
Furthermore the explanation that Peter’s message was interrupted before he was able to give enough of the message is not plausible either. Yes his message was interrupted, but not before he gave the essential details of Jesus, including that he was proven to be the Messiah and that we could be forgiven if we believe in him, fear him, and do what he says. It was a great message, though short. Their hearts were already right and they were ready, so it just didn’t take any more convincing. It’s the easiest evangelistic sermon of all time. Cornelius seeing the angle naturally helped. And he never did finish the sermon but exclaimed that since they had the Spirt there was nothing to prevent them from being baptized. So these counter-arguments really don’t hold water either.
And lastly, I’ll address one last counter-argument, going back to their idea that Cornelius got the Spirit but wasn’t saved. I didn’t see any of the verses I gave above, that indicate salvation and receiving the Spirit go together, addressed in the Miller article. But I did see one that it did address so I’ll mention it in passing. John 14:15-18 seems to say only believers can get the Holy Spirit and they dispute that one.
15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. 16 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive [take], because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:15-18
The verses mentioned above already indicate this pretty strongly, so this verse is not even needed to make the case but if true it would certainly be a clincher since it clearly says the world cannot receive the Spirit. So the article points out that the word “receive” can mean “take” and that Jesus is saying the world can’t take the Sprit from the disciples when He leaves. And the word can mean that and there is surrounding context of Jesus leaving them. But that actual verse does seem to fit more that the world can’t “receive” the Spirit, since it says the world doesn’t see or know Him (the Spirit) but the disciples do. So it’s more in context of accepting the Spirit. That’s why all the translators (I quickly checked about 30 on biblehub.com) translated it with the “receive” meaning. So they have to translate this verse differently from any of these translations to help make it fit with baptism justification.
Here are three more points that seem to point away from baptism justification but they are not as clear:
Thief on the cross wasn’t baptized
This fits fine with baptism being a required obedience (#3). If you don’t have the opportunity to obey like this, then you aren’t disobeying. This would also answer the hard question of what happens to people who die before they are baptized, perhaps even martyred on the way to be baptized. But to support baptism justification they have to say this was part of the old covenant and start the new covenant at Jesus’ resurrection. They will use Romans 4:25 that says, ”He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” But this is not real clear and doesn’t even talk about the covenants. The new covenant could start earlier and He just does things to seal it.
Regardless of when the new covenant actually started, it’s clear that Jesus started teaching the new covenant right away.
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. Luke 16:16.
you have heard it said…, but I tell you… many places in Matthew 5
…new wine in new wine skins… Matthew 9
That’s why the gospels were recorded for us and why we follow them, unless context makes it clear it was for certain people only. And in this gospel Jesus was constantly forgiving sin right when people believed in Him. If certain things were meant for only the Old Covenant, especially something critical like the point of salvation, it would have certainly been taught and/or the start of the new covenant would have been defined. But God didn’t see fit to tell us exactly when the new covenant started; it’s not needed if you just follow the new covenant teachings of Jesus. So it seems it was not important to know the exact point, but as a general curiosity, it’s natural to think His death would be the logical place, as he took our sins and became the Passover lamb, agreeing with Hebrews 9:16-28 (death seals a covenant) and the temple curtain dramatically split showing and end to the OT sacrificial system and allowing direct access to the Father.
Jesus was baptized for another reason than washing sins.
He was not baptized for remission of sin as we are, because He was sinless (I Peter 2:22). Instead, the Bible says He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). It sounds like he was doing it in obedience, just like I’m proposing we do.
Why was Paul thankful he didn’t baptize?
Another quick comment is that Paul was thankful he didn’t baptize many people and even contrasted preaching the gospel (for salvation) as a separate roll from baptism. Since most of his life was spent reaching the lost and saving them, you’d wonder why he said he wasn’t sent to baptize if that was the point of salvation. It could have been others with him that did, but there were times he was alone (though it was not the norm). This is kind of an odd statement to make if baptism was the salvation. It’s not conclusive, but you’d at least expect an explanation as to why he said this if baptism and salvation went hand in hand. John 4:2 records that Jesus didn’t baptize either, though his disciples did. Matt 3:11 even makes a distinction that Jesus will NOT baptize with water but the Holy Spirit. These kind of statements would be so odd if salvation happened at baptism and would surely have an explanation.
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:17,18
What about sins after salvation?
We understand that Jesus only had to die once and that He now has the ability to forgive all sins. But if something is so critical that He can only do so when are baptized, what about sins we commit after that? Why would he then choose to forgive with just faith and asking? It’s easier to see that the initial forgiveness and ongoing forgiveness are based on the same thing, our faith and asking along with a repentant heart (we can’t willfully keep on sinning).
Hebrews 10:22 talks about drawing near to God with the new and living way opened for us by Jesus’ blood. It mentions a sincere heart, faith, our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience, and finally our bodies washed with pure water. There is obviously a lot of symbolism here but water immersion baptism for salvation or cleansing certainly doesn’t fit. It fits fine with baptism as a follow up symbol to our bodies showing what God has done in our hearts.
Dangerous extremes of salvation baptism
So now I’ll get into the really dangerous distortion of this baptism doctrine (category 5 in my initial list). Some teach that a correct understanding that Baptism is for forgiveness of sins is required for the baptism to be valid. This seems to have come about by one man in the late 1800’s in one of the churches of the Restoration Movement, a 19th century merger of two major leaders (Barton Stone and Thomas Campbell). An exhaustive study was conducted in the late 1990’s by many members of these churches, called the The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement edited by Douglas Allen Foster and Anthony L. Dunnavant. According to my understanding of this work, this teaching on rebaptism came about from Austin McGary. He argued that “belief that baptism is for remission of sins is essential to its validity” and started or wrote in numerous publications over many years and had written debates with two other publishers, Thomas Burnett (Christian Messenger) and David Lipscomb (Gospel Advocate) who argued that “if a believer was baptized out of a desire to obey God, the baptism was valid, even if the individual did not fully understand the role baptism plays in salvation”. The encyclopedia records that McGary was very fervent on this issue and used harsh mean-spirited insulting attacks (though it records that he apologized later right before his death). Many churches were persuaded, but not all. The encyclopedia records that McGary was later exposed for selling a fake patent-medicine remedy under the name of Dr. Burlington that was found to just be tar water (a “snake oil” scam).
It’s gotten to the point now that this may have become a tool to draw disciple away from other churches because recent divisions of these churches re-baptize each other, even when they had the proper understanding during baptism. Taking members from other churches is all too common. My family has actually experienced this. A woman from one of these churches saw our Christian bumper sticker at a store and looked hard for us and told us she was looking for Christian fellowship. Naturally you’re inclined to think that meant she didn’t have any, right? Well, after a couple meetings at a park with her family and other friends of ours, whom we had also invited, we were soon invited to special meetings at her church. We found out that she was part of it all along.
I found the same on this website which looks like a routine restoration movement bio on McGary, not a critical attack.
I could see that this clear and identifiable step is where they considered you a part of the Church. Think about children who have always believed in God and Jesus and ask His forgiveness regularly, but at one point they officially identify with Christ. How could anyone say they weren’t saved before that? This would naturally be what drives some churches to infant baptism.
Dave Miller, P. (2022, August). Gentiles Received the Spirit Before Baptism? Retrieved from Apologetics Press: https://apologeticspress.org/gentiles-received-the-spirit-before-baptism/