Acts 2:38, “And Peter said to  them, ‘Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for  the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy  Spirit.’” As with any single verse or passage, we discern what it teaches by  first filtering it through what we know the Bible teaches on the subject at  hand. In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is  by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including  baptism (Ephesians  2:8-9). So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism,  or any other act, is necessary for salvation, is a faulty interpretation. For  more information, please visit our webpage on “Is  salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?”

Why, then, do  some come to the conclusion that we must be baptized in order to be saved?  Often, the discussion of whether or not this passage teaches baptism is required  for salvation centers around the Greek word eis that is translated “for” in this  passage. Those who hold to the belief that baptism is required for salvation are  quick to point to this verse and the fact that it says “be baptized in the name  of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,” assuming that the word  translated “for” in this verse means “in order to get.” However, in both Greek  and English, there are many possible usages of the word “for.”

As an  example, when one says “Take two aspirin for your headache,” it is obvious to  everybody that it does not mean “take two aspirin in order to get your  headache,” but instead to “take two aspirin because you already have a  headache.” There are three possible meanings of the word “for” that might fit  the context of Acts 2:38:  1–“in order to be, become, get, have, keep, etc.,” 2—“because of, as the result  of,” or 3—“with regard to.” Since any one of the three meanings could fit the  context of this passage, additional study is required in order to determine  which one is correct.

We need to start by looking back to the original  language and the meaning of the Greek word eis. This is a common Greek word (it  is used 1774 times in the New Testament) that is translated many different ways.  Like the English word “for” it can have several different meanings. So, again,  we see at least two or three possible meanings of the passage, one that would  seem to support that baptism is required for salvation and others that would  not. While both the meanings of the Greek word eis are seen in different  passages of Scripture, such noted Greek scholars  as A.T. Robertson and J.R.  Mantey have maintained that the Greek preposition eis in Acts 2:38 should be translated “because of” or “in view  of,” and not “in order to,” or “for the purpose of.”

One example of how  this preposition is used in other Scriptures is seen in Matthew 12:41 where the  word eis communicates the “result” of an action. In this case it is said that  the people of Nineveh “repented at the preaching of Jonah” (the word translated  “at” is the same Greek word eis). Clearly, the meaning of this passage is that  they repented “because of’” or “as the result of” Jonah’s preaching. In the same  way, it would be possible that Acts 2:38 is  indeed communicating the fact that they were to be baptized “as the result of”  or “because” they already had believed and in doing so had already received  forgiveness of their sins (John 1:12; John 3:14-18; John 5:24; John  11:25-26; Acts 10:43Acts 13:39; Acts 16:31; Acts 26:18Romans 10:9; Ephesians 1:12-14).  This interpretation of the passage is also consistent with the message recorded  in Peter’s next two sermons to unbelievers where he associates the forgiveness  of sins with the act of repentance and faith in Christ without even mentioning  baptism (Acts  3:17-26; Acts  4:8-12).

In addition to Acts 2:38,  there are three other verses where the Greek word eis is used in conjunction  with the word “baptize” or “baptism.” The first of these is Matthew 3:11, “baptize you  with water for repentance.” Clearly the Greek word eis cannot mean “in order to  get” in this passage. They were not baptized “in order to get repentance,” but  were “baptized because they had repented.” The second passage is Romans 6:3 where we have the phrase “baptized into (eis)  His death.” This again fits with the meaning “because of” or in “regard to.” The  third and final passage is 1  Corinthians 10:2 and the phrase “baptized into (eis) Moses in the cloud and  in the sea.” Again, eis cannot mean “in order to  get” in this passage because  the Israelites were not baptized in order to get Moses to be their leader, but  because he was their leader and had led them out of Egypt. If one is consistent  with the way the preposition eis is used in conjunction with baptism, we must  conclude that Acts 2:38 is  indeed referring to their being baptized “because” they had received forgiveness  of their sins. Some other verses where the Greek preposition eis does not mean  “in order to obtain” are Matthew  28:19; 1 Peter  3:21; Acts 19:3; 1  Corinthians 1:15; and 12:13.

The grammatical evidence surrounding this  verse and the preposition eis are clear that while both views on this verse are  well within the context and the range of possible meanings of the passage, the  majority of the evidence is in favor that the best possible definition of the  word “for” in this context is either “because of” or “in regard to” and not “in  order to get.” Therefore, Acts 2:38,  when interpreted correctly, does not teach that baptism is required for  salvation.

Besides the precise meaning of the preposition translated  “for” in this passage, there is another grammatical aspect of this verse to  carefully consider—the change between the second person and third person between  the verbs and pronouns in the passage. For example, in Peter’s commands to  repent and be baptized the Greek verb translated “repent” is in the second  person plural while the verb “be baptized,” is in the third person singular.  When we couple this with the fact that the pronoun “your” in the phrase  “forgiveness of your sins” is also second person plural, we see an important  distinction being made that helps us understand this passage. The result of this  change from second person plural to third person singular and back would seem to  connect the phrase “forgiveness of your sins” directly with the command to  “repent.” Therefore, when you take into account the change in person and  plurality, essentially what you have is “You (plural) repent for the forgiveness  of your (plural) sins, and let each one (singular) of you be baptized  (singular).” Or, to put it in a more distinct way: “You all repent for the  forgiveness of all of your sins, and let each one of you be baptized.”

Another error that is made by those who believe Acts 2:38 teaches baptism is required for salvation is what is sometimes called the  Negative Inference Fallacy. Simply put, this is the idea that just because a  statement is true, we cannot assume all negations (or opposites) of that  statement are true. In other words, just because Acts 2:38 says  “repent and be baptized….for the forgiveness of sins…and the gift of the Holy  Spirit,” it does not mean that if one repents and is not baptized, he will not  receive forgiveness of sins or the gift of the Holy Spirit.

There is an  important difference between a condition of salvation and a requirement for  salvation. The Bible is clear that belief is both a condition and a requirement,  but the same cannot be said for baptism. The Bible does not say that if a man is  not baptized then he will not be saved. If that were true, Jesus would never  have been able to assure the criminal crucified with Him that he would be with  Him in paradise that very day (Luke  23:39-43). One can add any number of conditions to faith (which is required  for salvation), and the person can still be saved. For example if a person  believes, is baptized, goes to church, and gives to the poor he will be saved.  Where the error in thinking occurs is if one assumes all these other conditions,  “baptism, going to church, giving to the poor,” are required for one to be  saved. While they might be the evidence of salvation, they are not a requirement  for salvation. (For a more thorough explanation of this logical fallacy, please  see the Question: Does Mark 16:16 (teach that  baptism is required for salvation?).

The fact that baptism is not  required to receive forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit should also be  evident by simply reading a little farther in the book of Acts. In Acts 10:43, Peter tells Cornelius that “through His name  everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (please note that  nothing at this point has been mentioned about being baptized, yet Peter  connects believing in Christ with the act of receiving forgiveness for sins).  The next thing that happens is, having believed Peter’s message about Christ,  the “Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message” (Acts 10:44). It is only after  they had believed, and therefore received forgiveness of their sins and the gift  of the Holy Spirit, that Cornelius and his household were baptized (Acts 10:47-48). The  context and the passage are very clear; Cornelius and his household received  both forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit before they were ever baptized. In  fact, the reason Peter allowed them to be baptized was that they showed evidence  of receiving the Holy Spirit “just as Peter and the Jewish believers”  had.

In conclusion, Acts 2:38 does  not teach that baptism is required for salvation. While baptism is important as  the sign that one has been justified by faith and as the public declaration of  one’s faith in Christ and membership in a local body of believers, it is not the  means of remission or forgiveness of sins. The Bible is very clear that we are  saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (John 1:12; John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Romans 3:21-30; Romans 4:5; Romans  10:9-10; Ephesians  2:8-10; Philippians  3:9; Galatians  2:16).