Acts 2:38 and Baptismal Regeneration

Can you go to Heaven if you're not baptized? Do I have to be baptized to go to Heaven? What if you're not baptized?

One of the hottest topics at GodWords is whether one needs to be baptized to become a Christian. This post is actually a comment…I replied to a commenter, and thought it would be useful to post it here as well.

Acts 2:38 says to be baptized for the remission of sins.

Anonymous GodWords Reader

Nope. Acts 2:38 clearly says to REPENT and be baptized…for the remission of sins. It’s important to read what’s actually there: Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

There are two ways to read this:

  1. Repent and be baptized (because without both your sins won’t be remitted).
  2. Repent for the remission of sins (and don’t forget to be baptized while you’re at it).

Acts 2:38 can be legitimately read in both ways, linguistically. Theologically, not so much. In light of the rest of Scripture – especially Acts 10 – it’s clear that baptism better fits the #2 reading. Were baptism part of regeneration, Paul would not have said “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”. He would have said “For Christ sent me to preach and baptize”.

You questioned me on what “for” means. You can see the definition here. It can mean into, unto, to, towards, for, or among. Greek prepositions are notoriously tricky things. There are lots of them, and they’re pretty complex. It’s always a GOOD idea to do what you’ve done, and compare one usage with another. I applaud you. However: in light of the accepted definitions of EIS (“for”), I see no conflict. The only conflict I see is the one where baptism is NOT necessary for salvation in most passages, but is presumed to be necessary in others.

Because I don’t believe that Scripture contradicts itself, I’m forced to rule out your interpretation of Acts 2:38. It’s not a dogmatic position that I prefer…it’s a reasoned position, arrived at in light of the whole of Scripture.