Acts 2:37-38 (Misinterpreted Scriptures)

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Now when [the Jews present at the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost] heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, 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.

Misinterpretation: This is the “flagship” Scripture of the UPC and of all Oneness Pentecostal churches. There are many ways that this Scripture is mistaught by the UPC, but the only error that I will point out here is that many Oneness Pentecostal preachers and saints misquote the Scripture by reciting, “Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved.”

Facts: The careful reader will notice that the words “to be saved” are not found in Acts 2:37. Peter had already told the believers how to be saved in Acts 2:21, when he quoted the prophet Joel and said, “[W]hosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” By the time Peter concluded his sermon in Acts 2:36, the Jews who were present were “pricked in their heart.” That is when they asked Peter and the “rest of the apostles,” “[W]hat shall we do?”

The reason that this is important is because these men had already believed in Christ. That’s why they were pricked in their heart! They wouldn’t have ever asked the question unless they already believed on Christ! If they didn’t believe then they would have laughed and walked off. However, they did believe, and so they were moved to ask what they needed to do. Peter responded by telling them to be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ, and that they would receive the Holy Ghost.

The point is that it was not baptism who saved the new believers, it was their belief. (More properly, it was God’s grace working through their belief). Their baptism was a response to their salvation, not the cause of their salvation. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia sums it up well when they write, “Peter’s ‘Repent ye, and be baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ’ (Act_2:38) is meaningless unless faith were exercised in Christ.”1

I will conclude my discussion of Acts 2:37-38 by quoting the story of the jailer’s conversion, found in Acts 16:27-34, which makes the distinction between belief and baptism even more clearer.

Act 16:27-34 KJV
(27) And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
(28) But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.
(29) Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
(30) And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
(31) And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
(32) And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
(33) And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.
(34) And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

References:

  1. ISBE, “Justification” []

66 thoughts on “Acts 2:37-38 (Misinterpreted Scriptures)

  1. JAMES ASHMORE

    The biggest error of the Oneness in using Acts 2:38:

    They say the Trinitarians use the wrong, or the “Catholic” formula when baptizing by pronouncing the Trinity over people.
    FACT: There IS no ORAL FORMULA in the first place!
    FACT: Peter did NOT say, “Be baptized SAYING “I baptize thee in the Name of Jesus Christ…” He didn’t tell them to SAY anything when baptizing, but just to DO it!
    If I tell you that you are commanded “in the name of Jesus, that you go out soul-winning.” I am simply telling you by what authority I am commanding such. It doesn’t mean that it is some formula you need to pronounce over everyone when witnessing to them. Paul said whatsoever we do in word or deed, to do it all in the name of “Jesus.” Did he mean that every time I sit down or rise up I must repeat a FORMULA when doing so??? Must I constantly say “In the name of Jesus”???
    If I am acting “in the president’s NAME, I do not have to go around SAYING “In the name of the president.”
    Thus, it is the Oneness who are following the Catholics in believing that one must SAY something when baptizing in order for baptism to be effectual!
    Once a person has been submerged and brought back out, they have been BAPTIZED, and have thus obeyed the command of Christ to be BAPTIZED.
    One who has been immersed in water is BAPTIZED regardless of what some preacher says while baptizing them.
    A minister friend of mine once shared how he was helping a pastor in France to baptize people: he said the pastor was submerging the people and bringing them back up and saying NOTHING while doing so. Having been raised under a Oneness mother and being in a Trinitarian church, he asked the pastor why he didn’t pronounce a FORMULA over them.
    The pastor looked at him and replied that God didn’t tell him to SAY anything, but just to DO it.”
    I never forgot that.

    1. JAMES ASHMORE

      By the way, if Paul stipulated to do everything in Jesus’ name in WORD or DEED, then he was plainly saying we can still DO things (deeds) in His name WITHOUT USING WORDS. Yes, one can DO things in His name without pronouncing anything.
      Paul told a man who was lame in his feet, “STAND UPRIGHT ON YOUR FEET” and didn’t even USE the name of Jesus! Acts 14:10

  2. Edward

    Josh,

    You say that you do not belive that BAPTISM “does not cause us to be saved”, then teach me something on 1 PETER 3:21 and MARK 16:16 because i believe if you are not BAPTISED you will not be saved. BAPTISM for sure CAUSES us to be saved.

    May GOD give you more revelations so that you teach us and not make your platform a place for urguing but for sharing the word of truth.

    Edward.

    1. Josh (Site Admin) Post author

      Hi Edward, I’ve dealt with both of those things multiple times on this Web site. For example:

      http://www.whyileft.org/frequently-misinterpreted-scriptures/mark-1616-misinterpreted-scriptures/

      http://www.whyileft.org/frequently-misinterpreted-scriptures/mark-1617-18-misinterpreted-scriptures/

      Regarding 1 Pet. 3:21, that Scripture is commonly misunderstood because A) people take it out of context, and B) people don’t understand the historical context. This is what it says in context:

      “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”

      Peter specifically says that it is not the water that saves us but “the pledge of a good conscience toward God” (aka, confession). In the New Testament era baptism was done immediately upon a profession of faith. There was no delay. See Acts 16:31-33. Baptism and profession and faith were synonymous in the New Testament world because the two happened immediately. I personally think that’s how it should be done today. It would solve a lot of the confusion around baptism. Nevertheless, if we are going to separate baptism from belief then we need to recognize that it is grace that saves us through faith, not the washing of water. And that’s what Peter was saying too.

      Hope that helps :)

      In Christ,
      Josh S.

  3. Layman316

    Josh, I noticed while reading through the responses that most do not deal with the topic of the thread. This is typical among Oneness Pentecostals. You are correct that Acts 2:38 is the “flagship” of the UPC doctrine (there are Oneness that do not believe this, nor do they hold to many of the holiness standards).

    You are also correct in your statement that the words “to be saved” are not in the verse, nor are these words implied. Ivan Baxter (Endtime Ministries) is guilty of adding these words as well. I would go into more detail of this subject, but you already did a bang-up-job at explaining it very clearly.

    That said, I would like to ask our Oneness friends why is it that Acts 2:38 tells you how to be saved, and not Acts 3:19? In 3:19 Peter preached the very same message as he did in Acts 2, but this time to a different group of Jews. However, in Acts 3:19 he did not command them to be baptized, but rather to repent and convert so their sins may be blotted out.

    Act 3:19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

    If repenting and baptism saves you, then repenting and converting should equally saved you, since they both seem to wash sins away (as per the Oneness view of Acts 2:38). Are not all Scriptures inspired by the Holy Spirit?

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