Water Baptism And The Forgiveness Of Sins In Acts 2:38 -- By: R. Bruce Compton

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 04:1 (Fall 1999)
Article: Water Baptism And The Forgiveness Of Sins In Acts 2:38
Author: R. Bruce Compton


Water Baptism And The Forgiveness Of Sins In Acts 2:38

R. Bruce Compton*

* Dr. Compton is Professor of Biblical Languages and Exposition at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, Allen Park, MI.

Then 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” (Acts 2:38).1

Peter’s exhortation delivered at Pentecost has been the source of ongoing debate. Virtually all engaged in the debate take the command “be baptized” as referring to water baptism rather than Spirit baptism,2 and most understand the phrase “the forgiveness of sins” as a synonym for salvation.3 The question that has stirred the debate is, What is the

relationship between the commands “repent” and “be baptized” and the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins”? Or, more specifically, how are we to understand “be baptized…for the forgiveness of sins”? Is Peter identifying water baptism as a condition for salvation, or should Peter’s statement be interpreted in some other way?

The purpose of this article is to interact with recent discussions of this verse and to arrive at an interpretation that is consistent with the immediate and larger contexts of Peter’s exhortation.4 The major views on the meaning of the verse are presented first. These are then examined to identify those views that are both syntactically and theologically viable. Finally, a conclusion to the interpretation of the verse is offered.

Major Interpretations

Five interpretations are commonly found in the literature on this verse:5 (1) Baptism as a condition for salvation, normative for the Church; (2) Baptism as a condition for salvation, not normative for the Church; (3) Baptism as a parenthetical remark, not directly related to salvation; (4) Baptism as a sign of conversion-initiation, the evidence of genuine repentance; (5) Baptism as a consequence of salvation, not a condition for salvation.

Baptism As A Condition For Salvation,
Normative For The Church

Proponents of this interpretation include both sacramentalists (those who see baptism

as the effective means whereby God imparts the grace of salvation)...

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