Acts 2:38 Baptism?

Good Evening.

My buddy and his church are dogmatic about the verse Acts 2:38, (“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.”
‭‭Acts‬ ‭2:38‬ ‭NKJV‬‬.) is saying water baptism Is absolutely necessary for salvation.
I’ve explained it every which way that I can, but he is saying “baptized” I this verse means water baptism.
How would you explain, and define, “baptism” to him, in this verse.
Thank You


Hello @James172,
I was curious if your friend and his church had a reason to gather around this particular verse. Sometimes a fellowship group may gather around a common idea as a response to something that had occurred or was said. Perhaps having this detail may make it easier to speak more directly to the heart of this church.

Jesus taught that we must seek those spiritual things to enter the kingdom of God, that what is born of Spirit is spirit (Jn. 3:5,6). When John the Baptist was doing his best to lead all by the waterside for baptism as a pledge for repentance of their sins, he acknowledged that it was the greater One who would come with what the people really needed: a baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire (Lk. 3:16).

In this passage of Acts, the disciples had just been filled with the Holy Spirit and were miraculously speaking in other tongues recognized by the people there for Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). The people thought this could not be and that they were just babbling after too much wine (v12). After Peter reminded them that it was a bit early in the day for that (v15), he told the people about what would happen in those last days:

Acts 2:17-18 NASB

This was a fulfilling of what the prophets of old had foretold, and God’s promise was being fulfilled through Jesus Christ (v22). Not only were they missing this event, they had put to death the very Messiah who had came to save them (v23). But this was not to be the end. It was foretold (vv25-28), and He lived so that all may be saved, which these disciples were witnesses to (vv32-33).

When the people heard this and realized that they had partaken in the mob that put the Messiah to death, they were “pierced to the heart”, remorseful, grief stricken (v37a). They were ready to repent from the heart and wondered what they should do (v37b). To which Peter replied:

Acts 2:38-42 NASB
[38] […] “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. [39] For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” [40] And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” [41] So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. [42] They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

It was a beautiful ending to that event which continues to play out each time a new believer comes to the same crossroads in their heart, repents of their own rebelliousness and asks what they may do. Peter explained this baptism further in one of his letters:

1 Peter 3:21-22 NASB
[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, [22] who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.

Although baptism is closely related to the immersion of the Holy Spirit over the person, it is also a physical pledge to God and a symbol that the individual has accepted the death and resurrection of the only one who can save: Jesus Christ. Following in His likeness as an obedient disciple, we too take part in physical baptism to express the spiritual thing that has taken place.

I hope that helps some. There may be more eloquent arguments on the technicalities of baptism and symbolism, and we could ask legalistically what is someone’s salvation really worth if they won’t accept baptism. But rather than go into those details, I hope these words of Peter and the focus of the outward physical sign and pledge of what is taking place on the inside gives both validity to the importance of baptism, as well as the greater heart and spirit matter that takes place within regardless if there happens to be water around. The Spirit does the spiritual work of salvation, the water part is step of dedication in that new life that has already begun.

Andrew B.


Hi James,

I am familiar with a group that makes these claims. One other question might be to examine the context in which this claim is made.

For instance, if a Southern Baptist church does water baptism, do they accept that as legitimate for salvation?

Or would they say, actually, it only counts when our church does water baptism.

If that’s the answer, I might want to shift the conversation to talking about that issue. For instance, I might ask, what legitimates your church’s leadership as the only spiritual authority for who is saved?

Sometimes questions that appear to be exegetical or theological can turn out to be more related to maintaining power and authority. Not always - and we want to remain engaged in a rational investigation for truth no matter the circumstances - but I think it is helpful to consider the social and emotional dynamics as well.


In defense of Southern Baptists (of whom I am not one, but have known many) I would be quick to add that their official position, as well as their practical exposition, has never been that salvation depends upon baptism - but that it is an important first step in one’s spiritual growth - regardless of whether it was performed in a Baptist church or not. (Just didn’t want anyone to pick up a misconception about them!)


Andrew, upon further study of the word ‘Covenant’ one will find that the Book of Acts is the book of the New Testament Covenant. God was always the God of Covenants and only identified with mankind through covenants. He commissioned Moses to go before Pharaoh and three verses later the Word says God sought to kill him! Circumcision was a covenant requirement. In the New Testament, circumcision is baptism into Christ(Colossians) This confirms Acts 2:38. Therefore, baptism is not optional to be in Covenant with God. It is a requirement. And tongues are a sign of entering into that final covenant for mankind. Death (repentance) Burial (baptism in the name) and Resurrection (Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Christ) It’s all about Covenants with God. ( )

Hi James,

First I would like to commend you for hanging in there with your friend. It will most likely take some steadfastness to see your friend through to a more accurate understanding of this issue. While it may seem like a straight-forward issue for some of us, I think your friend is really grappling with these ideas.

I grew up in a denomination that believed this very thing. It was not uncommon for us to believe that God had done “His part” in saving us by sending Jesus to die for us, but that we had “our end of the bargain” to keep up, and that bargain was that we had to be baptized. It was almost (without actually being said) a way of feeling that Jesus was somehow indebted to keep up His end of the bargain (that of saving us) if He saw that we had been baptized.

Some questions to ask your friend might be, “If you have been baptized is God then obligated to save you because of this work that you have done?” or “How do you think God ‘feels’ about saving you?” In my experience there is some real confusion over God’s nature and His willingness to save us, when people are caught in this thinking. It may seem counter-intuitive, but focusing on God’s nature and His attitude toward saving us may be of more help to your friend in resolving this issue than arguing over what the word baptism may mean in this passage. I know I wrestled with this question a lot. I found Ephesians 1 very helpful in this regard. Note in Ephesians 1 phrases like: “by the will of God…”, “just as He chose us in Him…”, “according to the kind intention of His will…”, “which He freely bestowed on us…”, “which He lavished on us…”, “according to His kind intention…”

In my experience this thinking in regard to baptism is often based in law, and the one who is pulled into this thinking is operating within the framework of needing to do certain things to appease an angry God. Perhaps they have never consciously thought of it in these terms, but when probed, these are often the very attitudes that emerge. I am not a Greek scholar, but my understanding is that in the Greek language there was a word that was used for this idea of appeasing an angry god. That word was “propitiation”. The New Testament writers took this common word and turned it upside down and on its head when they used it to speak of Jesus Christ. Have a look at 1 John 2:2 which reads, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” In other words, Jesus Himself became the appeasement before God for the sins which we had committed. And He did this willingly, according to His kind intentions, because He knew we were totally incapable of meeting our end of any bargain whatsoever! See also Hebrews 2:14-17 we read, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”

I think these passages demonstrate the nature and attitude of God toward saving us. I hope you find this helpful as you walk alongside your friend. I am sorry this post is so long. I am adding a second part with a few more ideas.

Thank You For Your Feedback. Means a lot

Blessings my friend! You are doing a good thing in walking alongside your friend!


Here is another idea that might prove helpful as you come alongside your friend, and that is indeed the idea of covenant. Take a look at Genesis 9:8-17. Take note of what promise (covenant) God makes with Noah and every living creature. Also notice in verses 12, 13, and 17 that God calls the rainbow “the sign of the covenant”. The rainbow was not the covenant but rather the sign of the covenant. God is enacting His covenant. Man is reminded by the rainbow of God’s promises (covenant).

In Genesis 12:1-4, Genesis 15, and Genesis 17:1-8 God makes several promises to Abraham. Then beginning in Genesis 17:9 and continuing through verse 14, God lays out for Abraham what He desires for Abraham to do in order to identify as one who has accepted the covenant of God and is living under that covenant. He points to circumcision as the “sign of the covenant” (vs.11). Abraham is completely unable to enact or make the covenant happen. He cannot father the child of promise apart from a miraculous intervention by God. Abraham also cannot acquire the land of promise apart from the hand of God. But what he can do is believe the promises that God is making. And that is exactly what we see that he did in Genesis 15:6, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” AND Abraham could bear within his body the sign of the covenant of God. He could identify as one who was in covenant with God.

I think this is a very helpful picture of salvation and baptism. We are utterly unable to bear any part in saving ourselves. Only Jesus can do that. And He did it perfectly at the cross when He Himself became our propitiation (see above post) to the Father. Now what we can do in response to that gift, is to repent of the sin that made that propitiation necessary, and we can identify with this new covenant (His promise of eternal life in Him) that is sealed by the blood of Jesus. In other words we can accept the covenant that He has offered, on His terms, and then choose to live our lives as those ransomed by His blood. We symbolize this in the act of baptism. But the baptism itself, this dipping in water, is not a work that saves us or in any way contributes to the act of saving us. It is the sign of the covenant that has been willingly, graciously, freely given to us because God’s very nature is love, and in His love, He Himself has become our propitiation.

I don’t know if this will be helpful to you at all, James, as you speak with your friend. I hope it will prove to be so. But these are the truths that set me free. I am free to breathe, because I am no longer under obligation to appease an angry God. (In fact, in Christ, God is not angry with me, but delights in me as His daughter!) I am free to live, because the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me! I am free to bring glory to the God I love, because I am His, sealed in Him with His promised Holy Spirit as a guarantee of the inheritance He has waiting for me. Life eternal in His presence! What a magnificent God we serve!!!

@James172 this has always been a fascinating topic for me personally. It seems to engender a lot of passion most times it gets brought up.

I was raised Catholic. They baptize in infancy but have another ceremony (Confirmation) for people who are old enough to better understand Jesus and commit themselves to Him. The thinking is that water baptism is enough to get a very young person to heaven but that more is needed eventually to show your belief in and acceptance of God.

I was always perplexed by this because I always felt God had the ability to admit the infant’s soul to heaven whether they had been baptized or not. It almost seemed more geared to the parents peace of mind than anything to do with reality.

But that said, I wonder what your friends think happens to a very young person who dies. Are they doomed to hell because they happened to die before being baptized?

The New Testament is replete with verses that talk about salvation that do not mention water (including Acts 2:38, Romans 10:9 and 10:13 just to name a couple).

However many if not most references involve water. I believe water is the symbolic washing away of sin, but acceptance of Jesus and subsequent life with Jesus as your guide is what actually matters.

Here is the bottom line in my view on this topic. Baptism with or without water in no way affects Gods willingness to accept your soul into Heaven. Acceptance of Jesus as your Lord and Savior does. If you do both of those at the same time, each at different times, or acceptance without the involvement of water, you have the exact same chances of being saved.

It is fun to talk about, but time is better spent with those who are non-believers.

Anyway thanks for bringing it up and God bless you in your future endeavors.

Thanks Brother. Well put.
I gave my buddy an analogy one morning at Starbucks.
I asked him, if he and I were strangers, on a plane flying over the Himalayas, and we were talking about each other’s lives, getting to know each other and I found out that he was a Christian, and I told him that I have sinned a lot. I have committed adultery, I was a liar, a thief, and a fornicator, and that I had no hope because I was to far gone in sin to get to Heaven.
All of a sudden, the pilot says the engines are gone, we are crashing into the mountains. There’s no turning back. I begin pleading with him, “I don’t wanna go to hell, I want to go to Heaven, what can I do right now?“ My buddy said, “There’s nothing, you have to go to hell.” I told him, “Wow, you just took the good news out of the gospel. What about the thief on the cross? He said God can personally forgive sin. That’s why the thief was saved.
He said, that my trust and faith, on the plane, like Romans 10:9-13, would not be genuine. He doesn’t believe in a “sinners prayer”.
I was blown away at his answer.

This is the true heartbreak of this thinking. I believe that ultimately it takes a move of the Holy Spirit to take the blinders off of someone trapped in this belief system. BUT GOD is so willing!!! HE does that!!! He did it for me! Keep PRAYING, keep pressing in! It will take fortitude in prayer and patience on your part. Don’t give up!!!

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If God can personally forgive sin (of course He can), then why would He choose to forgive the sinner next to Jesus but not the guy in the plane?

However your friend might have a point worth considering. The guy on the cross seemed to know that Jesus was not just another guy. I think he said that Jesus did nothing wrong. Whether he believed Jesus was the Son of God, or what he knew about Him we do not know. Jesus knew and knew he would be saved simply for his belief.

In my opinion, the guy in the plane would need to do more than simply say he wanted to go to heaven at the last second, he would need to recognize and believe that Jesus is truly the Son of God and would forgive his sins IF he believed that in his heart.

So the “sinners prayer” would only be effective if the sinner came to grips with who Jesus really is. That may or may not happen, only God would know. Of course anyone can be forgiven but the Bible gives us the criteria for being forgiven.

This might be worth bringing up next time you talk.

Yes, you’re right. The man on the plane needs to know that he knows he needs a savior, a redeemer, and personally receive Christ’s free gift of salvation. And if he does the Bible says he is saved by faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. That’s what I believe the man on the cross did. By faith he was saved. John 3:16
My buddy believe water baptism should be involved. Sad.
We should be ultra grateful that God made the gospel, simple. It’s a “yes” or “no” deal.
But like Ravi said, “It’s the distance from the head to the heart.”