WHAT DOES ACTS 2:38
Sometimes we read through the Bible without
giving much thought to the meaning of the words that are
somehow assume that God’s message will benefit us even
though we fail to carefully examine the specific terms and
grammar of that message. However, the very words of Scripture
are inspired and God intends for us to take them seriously,
examine them carefully, and understand them accurately.
Again and again God tells us to hear, read, believe, and
obey His divine revelation—a revelation given by means
of inspired words. "Every word of God is tested" (Prov.
30:5). We must neither add to nor take from His authoritative
words (Rev. 22:18-19). We must approach them with awesome
fear (Isaiah 66:2) since we will meet them in Judgment (John
12:48). In truth, the words of Christ will never pass away
(Matthew 24:35). With these thoughts in mind, let us examine
one special scripture that we must all obey if we wish to
be forgiven of our sins and receive the Holy Spirit.
The passage that we will examine is Acts 2:38. Amazingly,
this verse has been largely neglected, avoided, misunderstood,
explained away, or even distorted by large numbers of religious
people (cf. 2 Peter 3:16). This verse records the inspired
words of Peter as he answers the question of the guilty but
convicted inquirers on the day of Pentecost: "What shall
we do?" (v. 37). Peter proceeds to tell them what they "must
do" if they would be forgiven of all their sins--especially
the horrible sin of crucifying the Messiah Himself.
You and I have also sinned. We have disobeyed God times
without number. We have done what we should not have done
and failed to do what we should have done. We have committed
sins in the moral realm and sins in the religious realm.
Every person must come to the point in his life when he realizes
that he is a sinner and is worthy of eternal banishment from
the presence of God. Only then is one prepared to ask the
question, "What shall I do?" And only then is he
prepared to obey the answer that God gives in Scripture.
What is the Meaning of This Scripture?
Now let us simply look at this one verse, divided into its
several parts, as recorded in various Bible translations.
These versions attempt to make clear in our own language
what Peter was saying in his language and what Luke recorded
in the Greek language. (Remember that the New Testament was
written in Greek.) This simple exercise should give us the
meaning that we must see in the verse if we would believe
and obey what Peter actually commanded. Surely if we obey
what the apostle commanded we can be assured of the promise
that he offered.
Most of the translations seek to give an accurate word-for-word
rendering of the original, yet several attempt to give the
thought of the Greek (as in the Amplified Version). And now,
please consider this passage very, very carefully:
- Repent (NASB, NIV)
- Change your hearts (Simple English)
- Change your minds
- Turn away from your sins (TEV)
- Let your hearts be changed
- Repent what you have done (Cassirer)
- Repent ye (Rotherham)
- Reform (Living Oracles)
- You must change your minds and
your way of living (Anderson)
- Change your views, and purpose
to accept the will of God in your inner selves instead
of rejecting it (Amplified)
" AND LET EACH OF YOU BE BAPTIZED"
- Be each of you immersed (ABUV)
- Each one of you must be
immersed (Simple English)
- Be immersed (Renaissance)
- Let each one of you be immersed
- Be immersed (Worrell)
- Let each of you be immersed (Original
- Be each of you immersed (Living Oracles)
" IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST"
In the name of Messiah Jesus (Original N.T.)
" FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF YOUR
- So that your sins may be forgiven (NIV)
- For the forgiveness
of your sins (NASB)
- That you may have your sins forgiven
- In order to have your sins forgiven (Goodspeed)
- For the
remission of sins (KJV)
- So that your sins will be forgiven
- For the forgiveness of your sins (NEB)
- For the forgiveness
of your sins (JB)
- For the forgiveness of your sins (RSV)
- So that you may
have your sins forgiven (Phillips)
- To have your sins forgiven
- That your sins may be forgiven (NAB)
- So that your sins
will be forgiven (Beck)
- So that your sins may be forgiven
- Into the remission of your sins (Rotherham)
- In order
to the remission of sins (Living Oracles)
- For a release
from your sins (Fenton)
- For the forgiveness of your sins
- For the forgiveness of and release from
your sins (Amplified)
" AND YOU WILL RECEIVE THE GIFT OF THE HOLY
- And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (NIV)
- And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (JB)
- And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (NEB)
- And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (NASB)
- And you will receive God’s gift, the Holy Spirit
- And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
- And ye shall receive the free-gift of the Holy
As we can readily see, the passage
that we have examined is plain. It is clear. And it is
strong. In fact, it
is too strong for most people! Perhaps this is one
reason the verse
has so often been neglected, avoided, and even distorted.
God, through the words of Peter, commands you and
do something and offers promises contingent on this
obedience. The instruction of the apostle is something
with what some people have always been taught and
have always believed. If a person takes seriously
these inspired words, they will radically, decisively,
dramatically change his or her life. Let us examine
the meaning of these
words with an open heart and a receptive mind.
What is God Actually Saying Here?
In what way do people have trouble with this passage of
Scripture? Consider these points:
(1) God says that we must "repent" or have a deep
and radical change of mind, heart, and purpose so that we
literally turn away from inward and outward sins and turn
to God and His will (cf. Acts 3:18,26; 26:18; 1 Thess. 1:9).
The implications of this command are far-reaching! One who
repents will be radically changed because his heart and mind
have been changed. The repentant believer will "bring
forth fruits in keeping with [his] repentance" (Luke
3:8). He will perform "deeds appropriate to repentance" (Acts
26:20). True repentance is a life-changing principle with
(2) God says that we must be immersed (or buried momentarily
in water, then raised from water). This runs counter to many
deeply-held ecclesiastical traditions. It conflicts with
the prevailing view of most established churches (such as
the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal
and Lutheran) which contend that sprinkling or pouring are
just as acceptable as immersion.
Yet God specifically says that we must be immersed (the
Greek term, baptizo, means to dip, immerse, plunge, submerge,
overwhelm, or sink). One authority observes that it denotes, "to
dip, sink" (NAS Exhaustive Concordance, p. 1638). Another
points out that the noun, baptisma, consists of "the
process of immersion, submersion and emergence" (Expository
Dictionary of New Testament Words, W.E. Vine, p. 88). Yet
another says that baptizo means "dip, plunge" (A
Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell & Scott, p. 305). Of course,
the element that one is immersed into is water (cf. Acts
8:36-39; 10:47; John 3:23). The inescapable conclusion to
Peter’s words is that one who has not obeyed God in
this matter has actually not been baptized.
(3) God says that we must be baptized "in the name
of Jesus Christ." It is Christ who has been given "all
authority . . . in heaven and on earth" and who has
commanded baptism (Matt. 28:18). He has also informed us
of the meaning of the act--that it expresses faith in Him
(Mark 16:16), is related to salvation (Mark 16:16), and through
this means one is brought into a relationship with the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Spirit and is thereby enrolled as a
disciple of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20).
(4) God says that we must be baptized "for the forgiveness
of [our] sins." Again, this conflicts with deeply-held
theological views that separate baptism entirely from conversion
and forgiveness. In fact, many religious leaders brazenly
affirm that baptism is NOT for the forgiveness of sins but
simply testifies to a forgiveness already granted in the
past. Yet the Greek still denotes "purpose in order
to" and means, "for forgiveness of sins, so that
sins might be forgiven"(A Greek-English Lexicon of the
New Testament, Arndt and Gingrich, p. 229). A study of eighty-one
(81) different Bible translations confirms this fact. Furthermore,
one authority points out that of the 1,773 instances of the
Greek eis (for, into) in the New Testament, not once is it
translated "because of."
Therefore, God says that unless our baptism is Scriptural
baptism that has as its purpose the forgiveness of sins,
it actually is no baptism at all in the New Testament sense
of the term. Consequently, even though a given act may correctly
be an immersion, if the meaning and purpose is not in harmony
with what Peter stated, it cannot be considered Scriptural
(5) God says that He graciously gives "the gift of
the Holy Spirit" to those who genuinely repent of their
sins and who humbly respond in immersion (baptism). This,
again, contrasts with many theological views today which
affirm that one receives the Holy Spirit long before baptism
or long after baptism. It is better to take Peter’s
words seriously and understand that the gift of the Holy
Spirit is coupled with His gracious gift of forgiveness of
sins and both are contingent upon the repentant obedience
we have already noticed. In short, the Holy Spirit is a gift "whom
God [gives] to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:32). In numerous
other passages we read that the Holy Spirit is given as a
gift at the time one is born again or saved from sin (cf.
John 3:5; 7:39; Eph. 1:13; Gal. 3:2-3,14; 4:6).
Do we now see what God wants us to know in these significant
words of the apostle Peter? Let us summarize this passage
so that we might not overlook its meaning:
Repent (or have a change of heart that leads to a change
of life), and be immersed (or lowered and raised from water),
in the name of Jesus Christ (by His authority and with reliance
upon Him), for the purpose that your sins might be forgiven,
and you will receive God’s gift, the Holy Spirit.
When we look at the passage in this manner, the meaning
of Peter’s words is plain. No one should misunderstand
these inspired words. However, this raises an entirely new
problem. It is one thing to understand the Word of God, but
it is another thing to believe it and obey it. The Lord Jesus
said, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God, and
observe it" (Luke 11:28). What hindrances might arise
regarding one’s obedience to this command?
Some Question or Reject Peter’s Command?
(1) One may think that he was saved and forgiven many years
ago even though now he can see that he only repeated a simple "sinner’s
prayer." He really did not repent of all his sins at
the time nor determine to live an entirely new life. He did
not begin to love and serve God nor did he begin to hate
the world and turn from it. In other words, he did not genuinely
repent at the time he thought he was converted and saved.
(Of course, he may have made many changes since the assumed
time of his salvation.) The person may now think that to
acknowledge this lack in what he thought was his conversion
experience would be a sign of weakness or would deny that
God was working in his life all of those years. Yet Scripture
says that if he actually did not repent, he was not truly
(2) One may have thought that he was baptized when he was
a baby in his mother’s arms and was well content with
this until now. It simply seems out of place to deny that
God was using that infant rite to His glory. Yet Scripture
is quite plain that one must first REPENT and then BE BAPTIZED.
One must also first BELIEVE, and only then be BAPTIZED (cf.
Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; 18:8.) Therefore, his infant church
ritual actually was not baptism in God’s sight!
(3) One may have thought that he was baptized when a preacher,
pastor, or priest sprinkled or poured water on his head during
a very meaningful church ceremony. He thinks that God has
been working very strongly in his life since that time and
he hesitates to deny this religious response in his past.
After all, he thought it was baptism at the time--and wouldn’t
God accept one’s good intentions even if they were
incorrect? Yet Scripture is plain that one must be immersed
(or lowered, then raised from water) in the name of Jesus
Christ in order to obey this text of God’s Word.
(4) One may have thought that he had obeyed God when he
was immersed many years ago as a "testimony" that
he was already saved, to simply "follow Jesus in baptism," or
to become a member of a local church. This seemed entirely
acceptable at the time and it is what the pastor or minister
emphasized when the "convert" was instructed about
baptism. After all, it was an actual immersion--and surely
God would be satisfied with this. Yet Scripture is quite
plain that repentance and baptism are "for the forgiveness
of one’s sins." Unless one was immersed as a part
of conversion itself and for the proper purpose, it is not
the baptism of the Bible. Difficult though it is, one must
humbly acknowledge that if his baptism differs from Scriptural
baptism, God does not consider him or her a genuinely baptized
(5) One may have been entirely oblivious to the gift of
the Holy Spirit at the time of his or her baptism. While
some ignorance must be understandable when a person is baptized
(and he will grow in understanding over the following years),
surely we must not deny plain Scriptural passages in regard
to the Spirit. Those who say that one receives the Holy Spirit
a year or two before baptism and those who say that the Holy
Spirit is given long after baptism are both incorrect. Scripture
is plain that one receives the Holy Spirit at the time he
or she is forgiven of sins, and this occurs when a sincerely
repentant believer is baptized as we have described. (A supposed
exception, such as Acts 10:44-48, is just that--an exception.)
Scripture is clear that God grants the gift of the Holy Spirit
when one believingly responds in repentance and immersion
in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
The Word of
The reader should notice that many of these objections are
rooted in one’s own subjective feelings or personal
experience. In other words, one may be willing to deny rather
clear Scriptural teaching on the basis that it does not agree
with certain meaningful and spiritual personal experiences
that he has had in the past. One may deny what Scripture
says because he is convinced that "God has spoken to
him" about his salvation, or "the Holy Spirit has
witnessed to his heart" about being a child of God,
or "the Holy Spirit has given the gift of tongues" to
him. In all of these cases we must notice that sometimes
one is willing to trust assumed personal revelations, impressions,
or experiences rather than humbly taking God’s Word
for what it says.
We must never trust our own experiences above the authoritative
Word of Almighty God. As Paul said, "Let God be found
true, though every man be found a liar" (Romans 3:4).
We must not be deceived into trusting our subjective spiritual
experiences. "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool" (Prov.
28:26a). "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and
do not lean on your own understanding" (Prov. 3:5).
We must be willing to lay aside what our own heart tells
us and what our own understanding says is true and be willing
to take God’s Word for what it says. If God has spoken
on a matter or has given a promise in Scripture connected
with certain conditions, let us believe God and respond in
obedience to Him. With Paul, we must say, "I believe
God, that it will turn out exactly as I have been told" (Acts
How Should We Respond?
We have seen enough to know what God, through Peter, is
commanding one in our own day who is convicted of sin and
wishes to be forgiven or saved. It is so plain. It is so
clear that it would take professional help to misunderstand
it! Even if it were not this plain, there are other verses
that would help us to understand the meaning of Acts 2:38.
The interested reader may wish to study carefully such passages
as John 3:16-18,36; 5:24; 6:35; 20:30-31; Acts 3:19,26; 16:30-34;
20:21; Romans 4:4-5; 10:9-10; and Eph. 2:8-9 which discuss
the meaning and importance of faith and repentance. This
matter should be carefully considered since so few exercise
genuine, heartfelt sorrow for sin and sincerely turn away
from all that offends God. They continue to love and enjoy
the things of the world and take no delight in the things
of the Lord! True believing repentance is both negative (turning
away from sin and the world) and positive (turning to God
and His way of holiness).
Further passages speak of the meaning and importance of
baptism (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:12,35-39;
22:16; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-27; Col. 2:11-13;
1 Peter 3:20-21) as well as the act of baptism as immersion
(Matt. 3:13,16; John 3:23; Acts 8:36-39; Romans 6:3-5; Col.
2:12). Be willing to take these passages seriously just for
what they say.
For instance, the Lord Jesus declared, "He that believes
and is immersed shall be saved" (Mark 16:16; ABUV).
Ananias commanded, "Arise, and get thyself immersed,
and have thy sins bathed away, calling upon his [Christ’s]
name" (Acts 22:16, Rotherham). Peter wrote, "Today,
this is a picture of how immersion saves us through the raising
of Jesus Christ from death" (1 Peter 3:21; Simple English).
Paul asks, "Do you not know, that as many as have been
immersed into Jesus Christ, have been immersed into his death?" (Romans
6:3; Living Oracles). Again, Paul explains: "Having
been buried with Him in your immersion, in which ye were
also raised with Him through faith in the working of God" (Col.
It is clear, therefore, how God calls upon us to respond
to His command on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). The question
is whether we are willing to set aside our past preconceptions,
turn away from our former theological misunderstandings,
renounce our ecclesiastical doctrinal formulations, and cease
relying upon our own past religious experiences.
Very Sincere and Biblically-Oriented People Also Need to
The verse of Scripture that we have examined (Acts 2:38)
is not that difficult to understand. Neither are the others
that confirm its meaning. But the realization that we have
been a good, moral, sincere, religious, church-going, praying,
Bible-reading, "holy" and "spiritual" person
may well be one of the greatest stumbling blocks to accepting
the truth of this passage.
If this could describe your own hesitancy in receiving the
truth we have discovered, remember the case of Cornelius.
He was a "devout man" who "feared God." He
was generous and "prayed to God continually." He
was a family man and is described as "righteous" (Acts
10:1,2,,4,22,24,35). Yet this sincere truth-seeker had to
hear "words" by which he would be saved from sin
(Acts 11:14; cf. 10:43-48). Consider also the Ethiopian official.
He traveled many hundreds of miles to worship God, eagerly
studied the Scriptures, and definitely was seeking truth
(Acts 8:27,28-31). Yet he also needed to be forgiven (vv.
35-39). Paul himself had been zealous for the Lord and was "blameless" in "the
righteousness which is in the Law" (Phil. 3:4-6), but
he too needed to have his sins washed away (Acts 22:16; 1
Think also of Apollos who was "mighty in the Scriptures" and
who "had been instructed in the way of the Lord." He
was "fervent in spirit" and "was speaking
and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus" (Acts
18:24-25). Moreover, he was so humble and valued the truth
so much that he willingly received the instruction of Priscilla
and Aquila, thereby changing his view on baptism (vv. 25-26).
The twelve Ephesian disciples received Paul’s teaching
on baptism and were willing to be immersed a second time,
this rebaptism being "into the name of the Lord Jesus
All of these cases should be enough to convince us that
there is no shame in admitting that we have been in Scriptural
ignorance and even spiritual blindness regarding the subject
of our investigation in this booklet. In fact, it is honorable
to acknowledge error. Nothing delights the heart of God more
than a sensitive conscience of one who readily acknowledges
error and sin, then honestly seeks to obey God when he sees
further light! We prove our humility, sincerity, honesty,
and faith in God when we submit to His Word when we finally
understand it (Acts 17:11; Isaiah 66:2; James 1:21-22,25).
We must be like Saul (later Paul the apostle) who shockingly
realized his error then humbly asked Jesus, "What shall
I do, Lord?" (Acts 22:10). On the day of Pentecost, "those
who had received his word were baptized" (Acts 2:41).
The point is that, although we may be deeply religious and
love to pray and read God’s Word, it is the part of
honesty to admit error and humble ourselves in obedience
Perhaps this is one of the most difficult aspects of this
entire matter: Are we willing to humbly admit that what we
formerly understood about conversion and salvation was at
least partially in error and that we ourselves have been
gravely deceived about what we thought we experienced? This
requires humility, embarrassment, denial of self, acknowledgment
of wrong, and a realization that God has a right to command—while
we have a responsibility to obey whatever the cost may be!
It is far better to be embarrassed by our mistakes and denounced
by dear but deceived friends now than to be unprepared to
face the Judge of all the earth on that Great Day that is
sure to come (Matthew 7:21-27).
I call upon you to think through what you have learned in
this little study and consider it further. This additional
research may be very helpful. But please do not pass it off
as inconsequential. God means what He says and has said what
He means in this verse—and in all of Scripture. Are
you willing to believe Him? Are you willing to obey Him?