“Now, having heard this, they were stung to the heart with poignant sorrow. And they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, what shall we do, men, brothers? And Peter said to them, have a change of mind, that change of mind being accompanied by abhorrence of and sorrow for your deed, and let each one of you be baptized upon the ground of your confession of belief in the sum total of all that Jesus Christ is in His glorious Person, this baptismal testimony being in relation to the fact that your sins have been put away, and you shall receive the gratuitous gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:37-38 — Wuest’s Expanded Translation of the New Testament)
When it comes to the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration, the most popular proof text employed by its proponents is probably Acts 2:38—“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” At first glance, this verse may appear to suggest some scriptural substantiation for this erroneous doctrine. A closer look, however, reveals that such is not the case.
The New Testament’s emphasis on the importance of baptism for the saved is often misinterpreted as the imperativeness of baptism for salvation. Furthermore, the fact that the New Testament takes for granted the baptism of the saved often leads to a misunderstanding of baptism as an integral part of salvation.
To the Apostle Peter, baptism was a given for all who have trusted Christ for “the remission of sins” and the receiving “of the Holy Spirit.” Thus, he included baptism as part of his invitation to convicted sinners to come to the Savior on the Day of Pentecost. Unfortunately, many misinterpret Peter’s inclusion of baptism as part of the salvation process rather than what it actually is; namely, proof of salvation offered afterward by the new convert in the form of a public profession.
If I were to encourage you to obtain financial freedom from your mortgagee via a note burning, you would understand that paying off your mortgage is the means by which your financial freedom is obtained. A note burning is held after the fact as a mere symbol of what has transpired. Although it is associated with the paying off of your loan, it is not the means by which it is accomplished. Likewise, Peter associated baptism with salvation, but in no way intended for it to be misunderstood as the means by which salvation is obtained. Baptism, like a note burning, is held after the fact as a mere symbol of what has transpired.
If Peter was preaching the necessity of baptism for salvation in Acts 2:38, then, it is strange to me that he doesn’t even bother to mention baptism in his other sermons (Acts 3:12-26; 5:29-32; 10:34-43). In addition to this, the Scripture clearly states that all who believed Peter’s preaching of the Gospel in Cornelius’ house received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized (Acts 10:44-48). To me, these are insurmountable hurdles to be hopped by all who herald the heretical doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
According to A. T. Robertson, the Greek “eis” translated “for” in Acts 2:38 means “on the basis or grounds of.” Thus, Edgar Wuest, in his Expanded Translation of the New Testament, translates the verse as a call for baptism “upon the ground of [one’s] confession” of faith in the work and “glorious Person” of Jesus Christ. Wuest goes on in his Expanded Translation to add that one’s “baptismal testimony” is to be done “in relation to the fact that your sins have been put away” and “the gratuitous gift of the Holy Spirit” received.
It appears to me that Wuest’s translation is an accurate account of the Apostle Peter’s intent. It also puts this seemingly contradictory verse in perfect accordance with the rest of Scripture. Armed with this understanding of the Greek text, as well as with an understanding of the difference between the New Testament’s emphasis on baptism’s importance and the modern-day misinterpretation of it as supportive-evidence for an erroneous doctrine, you and I should be able to easily dispense with the few and flimsy proof texts proffered by proponents of baptismal regeneration.
“Facts all show that whatever good there may be in baptism, it certainly does not make a man a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, or else many thieves, whoremongers, drunkards, fornicators, and murderers are members of Christ, the children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. Facts, brethren, are dead against this popish doctrine; and facts are stubborn things.” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)