The Role of Baptism in the Book of Acts

The Role of Baptism in the Book of Acts
The Role of Baptism in the Book of Acts

The Role of Baptism in the Book of Acts

Introduction

What is Luke’s presentation of the role of spirit baptism in achieving God’s plan of salvation? 

Salvation is enshrouded in baptism which takes two forms water and Spirit baptism. Spirit baptism does provide one with an opportunity to let go of their sinful nature and transition into a righteous nature. Most Christians comprehend one form of baptism that is water baptism.

The proposal seeks to focus on the Spirit baptism and its role in salvation. In the book of Luke 3:16, John the Baptist said that he was going to baptize them with water, but the one who will come after him will baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire. The one who he was referring to was Jesus Christ.

The book of Acts chapter 2 delves in depth in elucidating the baptism by the Holy Spirit, and its impact on the people who experienced it. In Acts 2:2-4, the disciples were the first people in masses to be baptized by the Holy spirit. There was a noise that came from the sky that sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the entire house.

The disciples saw what looked like tongues of fire that spread and touched everyone in the room and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. The immediate effect according to Acts 2:4 is that they began to speak in other languages that they were not familiar with before.

Therefore, in the act of baptism by the Holy Spirit Jesus is the baptizer while the medium is the Holy Spirit. This point is further elaborated in Acts 2:38, where Peter states that everyone should turn away from their sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. The baptism will lead to the forgiveness of sins and will provide them with an opportunity to receive God’s gift that is the Holy Spirit. 

The verse has different interpretations based on what Peter told the people. Some scholars believe that baptism comes after the forgiveness of sins while others believe that the verse means that their sins were already forgiven and he was employing them to be baptized.

What then is the role of baptism by the Holy Spirit? In Acts 2:14, Peter echoed the message of Prophet Joel who stated that in the last days God would pour His Holy Spirit that will enable people to proclaim the Lord’s message in different spheres of the world. Based on this verse the Holy Spirit will help in spreading the word of God to all people irrespective of their religious inclinations and cultures.

In the book of Luke 10:21, the Holy Spirit brings joy in the lives of Christians and enables them to comprehend the scriptures better. How does the Holy Spirit perform this role and how is it interlinked with God’s salvation plan? In Luke 10:21, it is written that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed that the Lord had shown to the unlearned what he had concealed from the wise.[1]

Does God’s plan encompass everyone on earth? In the book of Acts11:17, when the Holy Spirit descended it went to the Gentiles who were not baptized by water. An indication that God had wanted not only the Jews to come to him but also people from other nations through one way that is repentance and living by His Word.

Christians and scholars alike have sought to understand the concept of baptism and its role in Christianity and salvation. In the Book of Acts, the subject of spirit baptism is widely mentioned and based on readings from this book; it is clear that spirit baptism plays the role of remission of sins.

Based on this, it can be established that the role of spirit baptism in cleansing sins is considered an important undertaking in the lives of Christians and those who seek to convert to Christianity. The Book of Acts also speaks about the understanding of God’s words and repentance as a requirement for baptism, which to a great extent portrays baptism as playing a role ensuring that individuals repent and understand the word.

Thesis Statement:  The spirit baptism does play an integral role in ushering Christians into a new age. The manifestation of the spirit baptism takes place after the person has confessed their sins and through faith they enter into a new covenant.

The meaning of baptism

In Acts 2:38, Peter alludes that baptism is a process in which an individual decides to leave their life of sin and begin a new chapter of life, characterized by believing in Jesus Christ and his teachings.[2] About this, Luke writes about two types of baptism: baptism by water and baptism by the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 1:5, Luke talks about baptism by the Holy Spirit by recalling what Jesus said to the disciples “For John baptized you with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Baptism in the Holy Spirit is differentiated from water baptism in that after baptism with the Holy Spirit, an individual receives power, following the encounter with Spirit of God (Acts 1:8).

The entire book of Acts does portray the power of the Holy Spirit after the baptism that took place in Acts 2. After the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, they received the power to perform miracles and wonders the same way Jesus Christ performed numerous miracles in the book of Luke (Acts 5:12-42).[3]

The role of Baptism

 Baptism for the remission of sins

This alludes in various instances in which baptism is mentioned in the Book of Acts and where individuals get baptized on different occasions. The verse, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38) demonstrates that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins.

Besides showing that individuals who are baptized are forgiven, Peter in this verse further calls on individuals to repent, which essentially refers to an acknowledgment of a life of sin and the desire to have one’s sins forgiven to begin a new life.[4]

The verse Acts 2:38, has initiated a lot of discussion in Christianity. According to Dunn’s interpretation, the verse talks about a new covenant that came into existence after the repentance of sins. In the book of Luke, only Jesus Christ had the holy spirit as all the other people had not had their sins purged via spirit baptism. The day of Pentecost provided an opportunity for the believers to be filled with the holy spirit as their sins had been cleansed via the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.[5]

On the other hand, Ervin does provide a different interpretation of the verse where he breaks the relation between salvation and the gifts of the holy spirit. According to him, he does believe that the start of Christianity is limited to repentance and water baptism. The gift of the holy spirit is secondary to the Christian faith.[6] 

David Petts is another Scholar who came up with a new interpretation of Acts 2:38, he does associate the spirit baptism with the missionary work. According to him forgiveness and the reception of the holy spirit are intertwined, unlike Dunn who does separate the two.

Dunn interprets the verse to mean that forgiveness of sin has to occur first before the spirit baptism takes place in a person.[7]For David Petts to support his argument, he does point out the case of Cornelius in Acts 10:43, where in faith he reached to God for forgiveness and received both forgiveness and the holy spirit.[8]

Max Turner, another scholar, does present another interpretation of the verse Acts 2:38, according to spirit baptism is part and parcel of Christianity but it was not intertwined with missionary outreach work. According to him the book of Acts does not indicate that all the Christians who received spirit baptism took part in evangelical work.

It was limited to only a select few individuals like the apostles.[9] He says that the spirit baptism takes place in an individual for a particular purpose not necessarily taking part in the apostolic activity. Based on him the spirit baptism does provide people with an opportunity to experience Jesus Christ directly. It does come into place through faith when one does accept Jesus in their lives.[10]

Based on my understanding of the verse I concur with Dunn’s interpretation of Acts 2:38. Spirit baptism is based on forgiveness of sins where one confess and through their faith in Jesus Christ they receive salvation. Despite my personal views, my research paper will aid in deeply explaining the verse as it is central in comprehension of the role of spirit baptism in salvation.

Baptism as the beginning of a new existence

Baptism is a declaration of one’s willingness to act according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Hence the reason baptism has often been considered as a rite of initiation. According to Carlson[11], baptism can be considered a Christian initiation rite, through the introduction of an individual into Christian ways, having read the word and understood it.

A similar connotation is given in Romans 5:12-21, where Paul notes that individuals who are baptized by the spirit experience a transformation, in which their former sinful existence is negated Carlson[12] and they are inaugurated into a Christ-ruled reality or existence.

Baptism as a sign of believing in Christ

According to the Book of Acts, it is evident that spirit baptism is only for those who believe, such that baptism plays the role of ensuring that people understand God’s word. In Acts 18:8, many Corinthians who heard the word and believed were baptized; while in Acts 2:41, ‘those who gladly received his word’ after hearing Peter’s sermon were baptized.

Given that baptism is meant for those that hear the word and understand it (Acts 2:36-37), and receive its message (Acts 2:41), individuals who refuse to believe cannot be baptized.

            2.4 Baptism and repentance

            Repentance is a prerequisite of baptism as provided in Acts 2:38. Peter instructs ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ….’ He does not simply ask them to get baptized but instead asks them to repent first, an indication that getting baptized is a major decision to turn away from sin and commit towards serving Jesus Christ.[13]

Baptism as the gateway to salvation

            A controversial question that arises based on the teachings on baptism as given in the book of Acts is whether baptism is compulsory for Christians to receive salvation. This is based on Acts 2:38, where Peter calls on repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. This is invariably interpreted as meaning that baptism is a prerequisite for forgiveness, hence the importance placed on baptism.

Paul was also baptized to be forgiven his sins and Ananias asking him to get baptized while calling on the name of the Lord to be redeemed can interpret it to mean that one cannot be saved if they have not been baptized. While this view is greatly supported, the bible numerously talks about the forgiveness of sins without mentioning baptism[14].

            In Acts 10:43 for example, Peter says to Cornelius that everyone who believes in God will receive forgiveness. Furthermore, it was only after Cornelius, and his family believed and received the forgiveness that they were baptized (Acts 10:47-48).  Cornelius was spirit baptized when he was in prison. This is an indication that the spirit baptism took place. This is an indication that salvation does precede water baptism. [15]

Role of Baptism in God’s plan for salvation

Examples of Citing the Bible

Acts 1:5

Acts1:8

Acts 2: 2-4

Acts 2:14

Acts 2: 36-37

Acts 2:41

Acts 10: 47-48

Acts 11: 15-18

Luke 3:16

Romans 5:12-21

Conclusion

Bibliography

Atkinson, William. Baptism in the spirit, Luke-Acts, and the Dunn Debate. Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2012.

Callam, Neville G. “Baptists and the Subject of Baptism.” Ecumenical Review 67, (October 2015): 334-361.

Carlson, Richard. “The Role of Baptism in Paul’s Thought.” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 14, (July 1993):255-266.

Dunn, James D. Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-examination of the New Testament Teaching on the Gift of the Spirit in relation to Pentecostalism Today. Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd; 2010.

Ekundayo, Lawrence O. “The Practice of Baptism and Its Justification in Anglican Church.”

IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science 21, no. 4 (April 2016): 32-38.

Ervin, Howard. Conversion-initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A in the Holy Spirit. Hendrickson Publishers, 1984.

Jensen, Robin M. “Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity.” Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2012.

Petts, David. “The Baptism in the Holy Spirit: The Theological Distinctive.” Pentecostal perspectives (1998): 98-119.

Reardon, Timothy W. “Cleansing through Almsgiving in Luke-Acts: Purity, Cornelius, and

the Translation of Acts 15:9.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 78, no. 3 (July 2016): 463-482.

Schreiner, Thomas R., and Shawn D Wright. Believers Baptism. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2007.

Spruce, Jim. Baptism: An important step in your life with Christ. Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House, 2012.


[1] Lawrence O. Ekundayo,  “The Practice of Baptism and Its Justification in Anglican Church.”

IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science 21, no. 4 (April 2016):35.

[2] Richard Carlson, “The Role of Baptism in Paul’s Thought,” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 14 (July 1993):255.

[3] Robin M. Jensen, Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2012), 65.

[4] Jim Spruce, Baptism: An important step in your life with Christ (Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House, 2012), 15.

[5] William, Atkinson, Baptism in the Spirit Cambridge (The Lutterworth Press, 2012), 10.

[6] Howard, Ervin, Conversion-initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A in the Holy Spirit (Hendrickson Publishers; 1984), 65.

[7]  James, D. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-examination of the New Testament Teaching on the Gift of the Spirit in relation to Pentecostalism Today (Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd; 2010), 80.

[8]  David Petts, “The Baptism in the Holy Spirit: The theological Distinctive,” (Pentecostal perspectives. 1998):65.

[9]  Max, Turner, Power from on High: The Spirit in Israel’s restoration and witness in, Luke-Acts  (A & C Black; 1996),398.

[10]   Max, Turner “Power from on High,” 399.

 [11]   Richard, Carlson “The Role of Baptism in Paul’s Thought,” 255.

[12]  Richard, Carlson “The Role of Baptism in Paul’s Thought,” 257.

[13] Thomas R. Schreiner, and Wright D. Shawn, Believers Baptism. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2007),43.

[14] Neville G. Callam, ” Baptists and the Subject of Baptism,” Ecumenical Review 67 (October 2015): 335.

[15] Timothy W. Readers, “Cleansing through Almsgiving in Luke-Acts: Purity, Cornelius, and the Translation of Acts 15:9,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 78, no. 3 (July 2016): 464.

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