Does Acts 22:16 Teach That Baptism Is Necessary for Salvation?

Several possible interpretations
Baptism
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The argument

Some argue that Acts 22:16 teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation.

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.

The argument is that Acts 22:16 teaches that baptism is what actually "wash[es] away your sins," and so baptism is necessary for salvation.

First, we need to clarify the debate

A better question

The question, "Is baptism necessary for salvation?", is misleading. We believe that baptism is "necessary" for salvation in that baptism is commanded by God, and thus one who refuses baptism demonstrates a lack of true saving faith. A better question to use for framing this debate is, "At what point is a person saved: upon having faith, or upon being baptized?"

The key issue

The key issue is not these individual passages, but rather, answering the question, "Does the Bible teach that salvation is through faith alone?" If the answer to that question is "Yes," then the question is, "What exactly does it mean to be saved through faith alone?"

The value in debating these individual passages is simply to demonstrate that they do not contradict the doctrine of salvation through faith alone. However, we do not build our theology of salvation upon these individual passages. They are peripheral to the key issue, which is the doctrine of salvation through faith alone.

Responding to Acts 22:16

Paul was saved before Acts 22:16

In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul says that he did not receive the gospel from Ananias, but rather as a direct revelation when he was on the road to Damascus.

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

This means that Paul's faith in Christ existed before he met Ananias or was baptized, and thus that he was also saved before he met Ananias or was baptized.

Furthermore, in Acts 26:12-18, when Paul recounts the events that happened on the road to Damascus, before he met Ananias or was baptized, Jesus appoints Paul as His servant and messenger. Paul could not be Jesus' servant and messenger if he was not saved.

From these passages, we can conclude that Paul was saved before he met Ananias or was baptized.

It was unique, and not normative, that Paul was saved before receiving the Holy Spirit

Interestingly, Paul received the Holy Spirit in Acts 9:17, after being saved while on the road to Damascus. Something similar happened with the Samaritans in Acts 8:14-16.

Essentially, this is not normative, since believers today receive the Holy Spirit at the same time as when they are saved. However, Acts is a transitional period between Old Testament believers and the Church, so it should not surprise us to see some unusual occurrences.

In the Old Testament, believers were still saved through regeneration by the Holy Spirit and through faith, but they were not permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Some believers instead received temporary indwellings of the Holy Spirit.

Paul's situation and the Samaritans' situation likely resembled the way Old Testament believers were saved, and this was because they lived during this transitional period between Old Testament believers and the church.

"Calling on" could also be translated, "having called on"

The Greek word translated "calling on" is ἐπικαλεσάμενος (epikalesamenos), which is an aorist participle, which is an action that occurs either at the same time, or before, the main verb, which is "be baptized." So, ἐπικαλεσάμενος could also be translated as "having called on," which would more clearly describe the fact that Paul was saved before meeting Ananias and before being baptized.

"wash away your sins" could refer to what baptism symbolizes

Baptism is a public declaration and a symbol of salvation. It represents the washing away of our sins. So, Acts 22:16 could simply be referring to what baptism symbolizes for the believer.

Conclusion

For the reasons above, there is no reason to conclude that Acts 22:16 teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation.

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