Acts 2:38

Sunday, 28 November 2021

Then Peter said to them, “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

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

Acts 2:38 is a marvelous verse to practice your memorization skills. Let’s see how you do. What are the five basic rules of biblical interpretation that you have been asked to remember? They are:

Is this prescriptive (does it prescribe something)?
Is this descriptive (does it only describe something)?
What is the context?
What is the context?
What is the context?

The answers to these questions will help resolve an untold number of errors in theology that have arisen because of this single verse. The verse is based on the question asked by those gathered before Peter while listening to his discourse, which was, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

The question was asked in response to the obvious fact submitted to them that they had crucified Jesus, their Messiah. This made them enemies of Him. In the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, they had been excluded, proving this fact. Salvation had been presented to Israel, and they missed the offer. And yet, their actions are the very thing that made their salvation possible.

The answers are that the passage is prescriptive. It is prescribing something for those standing before Peter (and before the Lord as they were at a pilgrim feast in the presence of the Lord). The passage is also descriptive. It is describing what occurred and who is involved in what is occurring. The context is that this is Peter speaking to the “men of Israel.” Not a single Gentile is involved, nor will any be involved in the entire passage. As such, it is prescriptive for those standing there, but not for anyone else who is not involved in the events at that moment.

The context is also that the people standing before Peter are all a part of the body of Israel who had crucified their Messiah. The context is also that some of those of Israel (not those in the crowd being addressed, but rather the disciples) had received the Spirit while others had not. And so forth.

As these things are true, and as the events at the conversion of others – throughout the rest of Acts – are completely different, then despite this passage having a prescription tied to it, the prescription is only for this particular event. It is not a prescription for any other event. It is not normative for the church age. Rather, it is now only a descriptive account for those who receive the completed New Testament.

In other words, and stated plainly, what is said here now – and in the verses to come – was a one-time event that is not to be made into doctrine for the church age. It does not apply (it is not normative) for our doctrine today. With that hopefully understood, the account recorded by Luke proceeds, saying, “Then Peter.”

Peter has been the leader of the twelve. It is he who has spoken out all of the words since verse 2:14, and he continues with the instruction. Luke then records that he “said to them.” The word “them” is speaking of the “men of Israel.” The masculine speaks for the whole and Peter’s words will be inclusive of women who are given the same instruction.

It is the body of people who had just crucified Jesus. They had rejected Him openly. In Israel, unlike any other body of people, there is both an individual salvation and a corporate salvation. The individual salvation is evident in Scripture elsewhere, but it is proven by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon some and not upon others.

The corporate salvation is spoken of throughout all of Israel’s history, and it is confirmed by the words of Jesus and of the apostles. The nation bears collective guilt for its actions. This is based on their agreement to the covenant set forth at Mount Sinai, a covenant that is still binding on them today until they – as a nation – enter into the New Covenant in Christ’s shed blood –

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34

The words of Jeremiah are addressed to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. The words are only dealing with them, even if Gentiles are also brought into this New Covenant. Other prophets, Jesus, and the apostles clearly indicate this.

This is the context – Peter, Israel, Israel’s rejection and crucifixion of Christ, some receiving the Holy Spirit and some not receiving the Holy Spirit. This is what had occurred only a short time earlier –

Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”
They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”
23 Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?”
But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”
24 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.
25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
26 Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. Matthew 27:22-26

As such, these words of Peter now are based on this event. The words apply to corporate and to individual Israel, but they do not apply to anyone else, including individual Jews, at any other time. But the precept does apply to the corporate body for all time. With this understanding, Peter states, “Repent.”

This is one of the most misunderstood and misused words in all of Christianity. The Greek word is metanoeó. It means “to change one’s mind or purpose,” “to think differently after,” and so on. It does not mean actually doing any work at all. It is simply a changing of the heart (the heart signifying the reasoning process of a person in the Bible).

Peter is telling the people (it is second person plural, and thus he is speaking to each person as much as to all of the people gathered before him) to change their minds. The question is, “About what?” The answer is, “About Jesus, the Messiah, and their rejection of Him.” They had to repent of this. Their mind was, “Crucify Him. He is not our King.” Their change in mind must correspond to that – “We believe! He is our Messiah!”

The word “repent” is prescriptive for Israel who had just crucified Jesus. It is not prescriptive for anyone else who has not first rejected Jesus. In other words, these two examples will help –

  • John walks up to Tom and tells him about Jesus. Tom had never heard of Jesus. Tom does not need to repent of anything. He needs to simply believe the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4) and he will be sealed with the Holy Spirit, and he will be saved (Ephesians 1:13, 14).
  • Tom has heard the gospel. Tom has rejected the gospel. Tom must “repent” of his former rejection (change his mind), believe the gospel, and Tom will be saved.

This is the context of Peter’s words. Israel (individually and collectively), who had just crucified their Messiah, must repent. For those who will do so, Peter then says, “and let every one of you be baptized.” The question here is “what baptism” is being referred to. It does say in verse 2:41 that those who received his words were baptized. That is certainly speaking of water baptism.

The word “baptize” is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizó. It signifies to immerse. The people were to have an immersion in water. However, it is not the water baptism that saves. Christ’s finished work is what saves. Peter makes this clear in 1 Peter 3 –

“There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.” 1 Peter 3:21, 22

The Weymouth Version translates these words as “with a view to remission of your sins.” This then is in accord with both the idea of baptism of the Holy Spirit which occurs when one believes and the water baptism which is a later outward demonstration of what has occurred.

The expectation for this guilty group of people is to first change their minds. It is to then make a public acknowledgment of this change in mind by being baptized.

The main question to be resolved is, “Does this mean that these people must be water baptized in order to receive the Spirit, or does it mean that these people will receive the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ based upon their faith and that the water baptism then follows as an outward display of the inward change?”

The text says later nothing of their receiving the Spirit after being water baptized in verse 2:41. What appears to be the case is that the formula of Mark 16:16 is evidenced here –

“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

When one believes and is baptized, salvation is realized. However, when one does not believe, condemnation remains. Hence, baptism is conditional upon belief. In other words, it follows necessarily that these people will be baptized into the Holy Spirit when they demonstrate faith.

One might suppose that this one time in Scripture Peter is making baptism in water a requirement for salvation (which would be contrary to the whole tenor of Scripture). If such was believed, it would still not be a normative thing for the church. Water baptism is a symbolic act of washing away the sin and defilement. This is not something that is required for salvation by anyone else after this.

Hence, what Peter must be saying is that these people will be saved when they turn to the Lord, they will receive the baptism of Holy Spirit, and then they are to be water baptized as the outward sign of their new life in Christ as was directed by Jesus in Matthew 28:19.

Next, Peter says this baptism is to be “in the name of Jesus Christ.” The Greek reads “upon the name.” Where would the people now stand? Upon the name of Caesar? Or will it be upon the name of the One they had rejected?

The crucified Christ, He who was openly rejected by the people – and upon whom His blood remained (see Matthew 27:25 above) – is now to be the One who provides forgiveness and salvation to those who just repented. This is perfectly evidenced in the next words, which say, “for the remission of sins.”

The blood atonement of Christ is set forth, clearly and unambiguously, in these words. The Lord was crucified, their actions had caused it, and their repentance of that will allow for atonement for their sins. The word translated as “remission” is aphesis. It signifies “dismissal,” “release,” “pardon,” “complete forgiveness,” and so on.

For those who repent and who are subsequently baptized from this group of people, a change will take place which will be explained in a moment. But notice that two things are required for the people standing before Peter to receive that change – 1) repent, and 2) be baptized. The repentance must occur, but so must the baptism. There must be a complete separation from the old and an acceptance of the new for them BECAUSE they were guilty of having rejected Christ along with their nation.

This is why what occurs here is not normative for the church age. It only applies to these people, at this time, in order to establish the complete separation between the two. Some of these people may never have heard of Jesus. Some of them might have heard and sympathized with Him. But the point is that the nation bears the guilt, and it is to instruct the nation that these requirements are set forth. It is instructional for Israel, and it is a testimony to bear witness against them for all time.

Peter next says, “and you shall receive the gift.” A gift is something one cannot earn. It is grace and nothing more. And yet, Peter has said they must do something in order to receive it. The apostles had received the gift. It simply came upon them. But it did not come upon the others. This means that the reception of the gift is conditional.

If someone says, “I have ten thousand squiggalmidoos and they are free to anyone who meets these criteria,” it doesn’t mean that it is not a gift. It means that they must be in a certain category. If one of the requirements is to have blond hair, then none but those with blond hair are eligible. Those with blond hair, along with any other set requirements, will be able to receive the gift.

For those standing before Israel, the apostles had met the requirements. The others had not. For those who had not, they must first meet the categorical requirements. Once they were satisfactorily met, they would receive the gift. There are no works here. There are only set requirements. And the gift they would receive would be that “of the Holy Spirit.”

This is salvation. It is the sealing of the person for redemption. It is receiving the full, final, and forever forgiveness of sins through the shed blood of Christ. It is moving from the Mosaic Covenant (the Law of Moses) to the New Covenant in Christ’s blood. It is the covenant that speaks of the non-imputation of sin and the surety of reconciliation with God for all eternity.

The words here are prescriptive for those at the time. They are descriptive after the event. The context is Israel who crucified the Lord, and the prescriptions are necessary but are not normative.

We are not to take what is said in Acts 2:38 and change the parameters. Even if Peter is speaking of water baptism (which is probably not the case), the requirement would not apply in any other context, and it certainly does not apply to salvation today. The epistles convey to us what is required for salvation. They tell the people of the world what God expects of them in order to be in a right standing with Him.

Life application: Acts is a descriptive account of what occurred. The prescriptions within that historical record are not necessarily (and are almost never) normative for the church age.

Understand and maintain proper context within your theology and you will be in the sweet spot.

Lord God, help us to be in the sweet spot concerning our doctrine and theology at all times. To Your glory, we pray. Amen.