Is Water Baptism Necessary For Salvation?
by Pastor Tony Butler
Act 22:16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord
I am always amazed how people who believe that water baptism saves them are so confident that their special cherry picked verses they use to prove baptismal regeneration are indisputable. Acts 22:16 is a favorite of theirs which in their minds silences every dissenting voice.
Context Is Everything
To understand Acts 22:6 one has to put it in context. Chapter twenty two is a testimony of Paul as he recounts his conversion experience to the Jews in Jerusalem. Paul had returned to Jerusalem and caused a great uproar among the Jews who also wanted to kill him. In the midst of the Jewish riot Roman soldiers intervened and protected Paul from the mob. Paul asked permission of the Roman officer if he could speak to the people. Paul was given permission and spoke to the Jews in Hebrew. What he shared with them was the personal testimony of his conversion.
Acts 22:1-22 Men, brothers and fathers! Hear my defense now to you. (2) And hearing that he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, they all the more kept silence. And he said, (3) I am truly a man, a Jew born in Tarsus in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the exactness of the Law of the fathers, being a zealous one of God, as you all are today. (4) I persecuted this Way as far as death, binding and delivering both men and women into prisons; (5) as also the high priest bears witness to me, and all the elderhood. And receiving letters from them to the brothers, I traveled into Damascus indeed to lead those being bound to Jerusalem, in order that they might be punished. (6) And it happened to me, traveling and drawing near to Damascus: suddenly, about midday, a great light out of the heaven shone around me. (7) And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me? (8) And I answered, Who are you, lord? And he said to me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute. (9) And they who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid. But they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. (10) And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said to me, Arise and go into Damascus. And there it shall be told you all things which are appointed for you to do. (11) And I did not see, because of the glory of that light; being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus. (12) And one Ananias, a devout man according to the Law, testified to by all the Jews who lived there, (13) coming to me and standing by, said to me, Brother Saul, look up! And the same hour I looked up on him. (14) And he said, The God of our fathers has chosen you to know His will and to see the Just One, and to hear a voice out of His mouth. (15) For you shall be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. (16) And now what do you intend? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (17) And it happened to me, I returning to Jerusalem and praying in the temple, I became in an ecstasy. (18) And I saw Him say to me, Hurry and go quickly out of Jerusalem, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me. (19) And I said, Lord, they know that I was imprisoning and beating those who believed on You throughout the synagogues. (20) And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was poured out, I also was standing by and consenting to his death, and holding the garments of those who killed him. (21) And He said to me, Go, for I will send you far away to the nations. (22) And they listened to him until this word, and then they lifted up their voice, saying, Take such a one from the earth! For it is not fitting that he should live.
Saul’s Actual Encounter With Jesus
As you have read, Acts 22 is a testimony before men but Acts chapter nine is the actual event of Paul’s conversion. It is the key to understanding Acts 22:16 because we have the advantage to see the whole picture.
Acts 9:8-18 And Saul was lifted up from the earth, his eyes were opened, but he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. (9) And he was three days not seeing, and did not eat or drink. (10) And there was a certain disciple in Damascus named Ananias. And the Lord said to him in a vision, Ananias! And he said, Behold me, Lord. (11) And the Lord said to him, Arise and go into the street which is called Straight and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus. For behold, he is praying, (12) and has seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him so that he might receive his sight. (13) And Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard from many of this man, how many evil things he has done to Your saints at Jerusalem. (14) And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your Name. (15) But the Lord said to him, Go! For this one is a chosen vessel to Me, to bear My name before nations and kings and the sons of Israel. (16) For I will show him what great things he must suffer for My name's sake. (17) And Ananias went and entered into the house. And putting his hands on him, he said, Brother Saul, the Lord, Jesus, who appeared to you in the way in which you came, has sent me to you that you might see and be filled with the Holy Spirit. (18) And instantly scales as it were fell from his eyes, and he instantly saw again. And rising up, he was baptized.
The Filling Of The Holy Spirit In Paul
In the actual event of Paul’s encounter with Jesus we see some things that Paul left out in his speech to the Jewish mob in Acts 22.
First we see the order of events after the laying on of hands. Annanias told Paul that Jesus Himself sent him that Paul might see and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Look at the order below:
1. Laying on of hands
2. Receives sight
3. The filling of the Holy Spirit (in spoken order but not specifically mentioned)
The interesting thing in the Acts nine event is it doesn’t say when Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit. However, when you look at the order in which things are stated it makes the most sense that Paul was filled with the Spirit when Annanias laid hands on him because that is the second reason given by Annanias as to why he was sent to Paul.
The pattern of people receiving the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands is clearly established in the book of Acts.
Acts 8:17 Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Acts 19:6 And as Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
People who believe that baptism is necessary to be saved would naturally reject the above order. They would have Paul to receive his sight, get baptized and then be filled with the Spirit after baptism. Look at the order below:
1. Laying on of hands
2. Receives sight
4. The filling of the Holy Spirit (out of spoken order and presumption)
People who accept this view are presumptous as to when Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t square with the order that Annanias spoke to Paul. There is not a single place in scripture where there is a recording of anyone being filled with the Holy Spirit as a result of their baptism. Acts 19:6 would come the closest but the scriptures clearly state it was the laying on of hands and not baptism that produced the effect of the filling of the Holy Spirit.
When Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit is crucial on both sides of the argument. If Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was baptized that would mean he was already saved which would negate the idea of needing to be baptized in order to be saved.
On the otherhand, if Paul wasn’t filled with the Holy Spirit until he was baptized by water that would re-inforce the idea of baptismal regeneration. (Remember there is zero mention in scripture concerning the exact timing of Paul’s filling)
Paul’s Conversion, Was It Before or After Baptism?
When did Paul actually get saved? If you look at the actual event when Paul encountered Jesus personally, you will see something important. The Lord had revealed himself to Paul by His actual name, Jesus.
Paul called Jesus Lord and asked what He wanted of him. Jesus told Paul he would be told later what would be required of him. Paul was taken to Damascus where he fasted for three days. While Paul was in Damascus praying, the Lord told Ananias in a vision where to find Paul and that Paul had already had a vision of him/Annanias coming to lay hands on him for the receiving of his sight. Annanias even referred to Paul as “brother” before he laid hands on him. (Acts 22:13)
Though it is never stated specifically in scripture when Paul believed in Jesus, I feel sure that his theology was straightened out on the Damascus road. Paul realized Jesus was Lord and confessed Him to be so. This is in perfect alignment with scripture:
Romans 10:9-13 Because if you confess the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. (10) For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses unto salvation. (11) For the Scripture says, "Everyone believing on Him shall not be put to shame." (12) For there is no difference both of Jew and of Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call on Him. (13) For everyone, "whoever shall call on the name of the Lord will be saved."
Remember, Annanias came specifically to lay hands on Paul for two reasons:
1) That he would receive his sight
2) That he would be filled with the Holy Spirit
A Good Question
If Paul was already saved before his baptism and filled with the Spirit, one could ask why would Annanias say to Paul in Acts 22 “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord?”
To understand this we have to keep a few things in mind. Paul, who was the apostle to the Gentiles and author of at least 13 epistles of the NT had not yet been discipled by Jesus Himself (Read Gal. 1:12-18). Paul was a brand new convert. At this time there was no clear doctrinal teaching concerning church doctrine (which included Jew and Gentile). The Jews were only familiar with baptism as a ceremonial cleansing or ablution. This is exactly how any first century Jew would have seen baptism. Every Jewish proselyte had to be immersed in water in order to be received into Judaisism.
The Jewish understanding of baptism for purification didn’t come from the law of Moses, but rather Talmudic teachings from Babylon.
The powers ascribed to the waters of the Jordan are expressly stated to be that they restore the unclean man to the original state of a new-born "little child." This idea underlies the prophetic hope of the fountain of purity, which is to cleanse Israel from the spirit of impurity (Zech. xiii. 1; Ezek. xxxvi. 25; compare Isa. iv. 4). Thus it is expressed in unmistakable terms in the Mandean writings and teachings (Brandt, "Mandäische Religion," pp. 99 et seq., 204 et seq.) that the living water in which man bathes is to cause his regeneration. For this reason does the writer of the fourth of the Sibylline Oracles, lines 160-166, appeal to the heathen world, saying, "Ye miserable mortals, repent; wash in living streams your entire frame with its burden of sin; lift to heaven your hands in prayer for forgiveness and cure yourselves of impiety by fear of God!" This is what John the Baptist preached to the sinners that gathered around him on the Jordan; and herein lies the significance of the bath of every proselyte. He was to be made "a new creature" (Gen. R. xxxix). (Jewish Encyclopedia – 1906 – Baptism)
It is important to understand that the book of Acts isn’t a teaching book where church doctrines are established and explained. It is a historical book which reveals the development of Christianity among the Jews and Gentiles throughout the world. The book of Acts is divine scripture but it doesn’t explain doctrine as do the epistles. The epistles of Paul make it crystal clear salvation is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8,9)
The words of Anannias are recorded historical statements made to Paul from his limited understanding as a Jew. It would be the most natural thing in the world for Annanias to say what he said. Upon being baptized Paul would call upon the Lord/Confess Christ (which believers still do today). Such a baptism would only be an outward confession and demonstration of an inward conversion that had already taken place.
Peter had already made it clear in Acts 2 by quoting from Joel 2:31-32 that salvation came by calling on the name of the Lord. Paul makes it clear in Romans 10:9,10 that it is the calling on the name of the Lord by faith that saves a man. Not once does Paul mention baptism as a necessity in Romans 10 or anywhere else. Never do we ever see Paul in any of his epistles asking people to get baptized in order to wash away their sins.
The book of acts isn’t a book that explains doctrine. It is a historical book of what was said and done as the church developed. The words of Anannias doesn’t mean his talmudic understanding of baptism had divine authority. Acts merely records what he said. There is no doctrinal force concerning his words. Annanias was speaking symbolically according to Jewish Talmudic tradition. The Jews clearly understood baptism as symbolic cleansings but the epistles would teach the actual cleansing is by the blood of Jesus.
Revelation 1:5 …To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,
Hebrews 9:26b – “… but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”
Hebrews 9:12 – “and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”
Hebrews 9:22 – “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”
After Paul’s conversion and personal discipleship from Jesus, he began his ministry. Not one time did Paul ever say or teach baptism was necessary for salvation. In Acts 16:31, when very specifically asked what one had to do in order to be saved, he said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved”. (Acts 16:31) The words of Peter in Acts 10:43 clear up Peter's words in Acts 2:38 as to how the remission of sins would take place. (See baptism part 3)
When the Jews gathered at the first Jerusalem council in Acts 15 to clear up a particular doctrinal dispute, Peter made it clear that salvation was all by grace through faith. There wasn’t a single mention of baptism as a means for regeneration.
Acts 15:7-11 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. (8) And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; (9) And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. (10) Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? (11) But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. (Peter is referring to Cornelius and those Gentiles with him in Acts 10. They all received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized)
Remember the stated order found in Acts nine:
1. Laying on of hands
2. Receiving of sight
3. Filling with the holy Spirit
Using Acts 22:16 to prove water baptism is necessary for salvation is a stretch indeed. When the text is seen in light of clear statements of Jesus over 200x in the gospels, the NT epistles (especially of Paul), the historical talmudic Jewish understanding of baptism, and the stated order of events in Acts nine, then one can clearly see Acts 22:16 doesn’t prove the necessity of being baptized in order to be saved. Jesus never taught it, Paul never taught it, Peter never taught it, nor any of the other apostles.
You will not find one direct statement in any epistle that states one must be baptized in order to be saved or commands one to be baptized in order to be saved. (To use Jn.3:5 is also presumption – see baptism part 2) However you will find hundreds of scriptures that state faith/belief/trust in Christ is what saves a person. The Holy Spirit is always seen as being given to people when they believe and not when they are baptized.
The only exceptions are found in Acts where the Holy Spirit was given to some Gentile believers by the laying on of hands much time after their baptism. (Acts 8:17; 9:6)
Ephesians 1:12-13 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. (13) In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
Please don’t let a handful of verses out of context trump the multitudes of clear scripture stating that salvation comes by faith. Trust in Christ alone by the blood He shed, the Life He gave as payment in full for your sins. If you trust water to remove your sins you will surely perish in your sins. Blessings on you all who love and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Go to Part Six: Romans 6:3-5