Does Acts 2:38 teach that baptism saves?                                                           by Jack Kettler


“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)


Acts 2:38 does not teach that baptism is necessary for salvation:


Acts 2:38 in the King James Version (KJV) reads: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”


In this passage, Reformed theologians argue that the Greek grammar does not support the interpretation that baptism is necessary for salvation. The key phrase in question is “for the remission of sins” (Greek: εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν).


The Greek preposition “εἰς” (eis) is often translated as “for” or “unto,” but it can also carry the meaning of “because of,” “on the basis of,” or “on account of.” Reformed theologians argue that the latter interpretation is more consistent with the overall context of Scripture. They believe that the phrase “εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν” should be understood as “on the basis of the remission of sins,” indicating that baptism is a response to the forgiveness of sins rather than a prerequisite for it.


Additional reasons why the interpretation that this passage does not teach that baptism is required for salvation:


The passage is teaching with a view to receiving forgiveness of sins rather than making baptism itself the requirement for forgiveness. In other passages, Scripture clearly teaches that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone, not by works such as baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16).


There are examples in Scripture of people being forgiven and receiving the Holy Spirit before being baptized, such as Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48).


The immediate context of Acts 2:38 is Peter's call for repentance (v. 38), which is consistently taught as the prerequisite for salvation (e.g., Mark 1:15, Luke 24:47, Acts 3:19).


So, a more likely interpretation is that Peter was calling the people to repent (turn from sin to Christ in faith) and then be baptized as a public identification with Christ and His forgiveness, rather than saying baptism itself is what grants forgiveness. Baptism is an important step of obedience, but Scripture seems to present it as a subsequent act that symbolizes the inward reality of salvation by faith, not as the means of achieving it.


Furthermore, Reformed theologians point to other passages in Scripture that emphasize salvation by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:28). They argue that baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality, a public declaration of one's faith in Christ and the forgiveness of sins, rather than a means of obtaining salvation.


1.      If baptism is required for salvation, as some interpretations of Acts 2:38 suggest, salvation depends on the individual's specific action or work.

2.      The doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone, as taught in Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 3:28, emphasizes that salvation is a gift of God's grace and not earned by works.

3.      If salvation depends on baptism, it contradicts the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone, as it introduces a requirement for salvation based on an individual's work.

4.      Therefore, if Acts 2:38 teaches that baptism is required for salvation, it teaches a works-based salvation, which is inconsistent with the broader biblical teaching on salvation by grace through faith alone.


One classical commentary that refutes the idea that Acts 2:38 teaches that baptism is required for salvation is John Calvin's commentary on Acts 2:38. Calvin, a prominent figure in the Protestant Reformation, argues that the phrase “for the remission of sins” should be understood as “because of the remission of sins.”


Calvin writes:


“Be baptized every one of you. Although in the text and order of the words, baptism doth here go before remission of sins, yet doth it follow it in order, because it is nothing else but a sealing of those good things which we have by Christ that they may be established in our consciences; therefore, after that Peter had intreated of repentance, he calleth the Jews unto the hope of grace and salvation; and, therefore, Luke well afterwards, in Paul's sermon, joineth faith and repentance together in the same sense, wherein he putteth forgiveness of sins in this place, and that for good considerations; for the hope of salvation consisteth in the free imputation of righteousness; and we are counted just, freely before God, when he forgiveth us our sins. And as I said before, that the doctrine of repentance hath a daily use in the Church so must we think of the forgiveness of sins, that the same is continually offered unto us; and surely it is no less necessary for us during the whole course of our life, than at our first entrance into the Church, so that it should profit us nothing to be once received into favor by God, unless this embassage should have a continual course; be-reconciled unto God, because


“he which knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Corinthians 5:20.)


Moreover, the Papists do so corrupt this other part of the gospel, that they quite exclude the remission of sins, which was to be obtained by Christ. They confess their sins are freely forgiven in baptism, but they will have them redeemed with satisfactions after baptism; and although they mix the grace of Christ together therewithal, yet because they inwrap the same in men's merits, they do by this means overthrow the whole doctrine of the gospel; for, first, they take from men's consciences the certainty of faith; that done, forasmuch as they part the forgiveness of sins between the death of Christ and our satisfactions, they do altogether deprive us of Christ's benefit. For Christ doth not reconcile us unto God in part, but wholly, neither can we obtain remission of sins by him, unless it be whole and perfect. But the Papists are much deceived therein, who restrain baptism unto the nativity and former life, as if the signification and force thereof did not reach even unto death.


Let us know, therefore, that forgiveness of sins is grounded in Christ alone, and that we must not think upon any other satisfaction [127] save only that which he hath performed by the sacrifice of his death. And for this cause, as we have already said, doth Peter express his name, whereby he doth signify unto us, that none of all these things can be rightly taught, unless Christ be set in the midst, to the end the effect of this doctrine may be sought in him. That needeth no long exposition where he commandeth them to be baptized for the remission of sins; for although God hath once reconciled men unto himself in Christ" by not imputing unto them their sins," (2 Corinthians 5:19,) and doth now imprint in our hearts the faith thereof by his Spirit; yet, notwithstanding, because baptism is the seal whereby he doth confirm unto us this benefit, and so, consequently, the earnest and pledge of our adoption, it is worthily said to be given us for the remission of sins. For because we receive Christ's gifts by faith, and baptism is a help to confirm and increase our faith, remission of sins, which is an effect of faith, is annexed unto it as unto the inferior mean. Furthermore, we must not fetch the definition of baptism from this place, because Peter doth only touch a part thereof. Our old man is crucified by baptism, as Paul teacheth, that we may rise unto newness of life, (Romans 6:4, 6.) And, again, we put on Christ himself, (1 Corinthians 12.) and the Scripture teacheth every where, that it is also a sign and token of repentance, (Galatians 3:27.) But because Peter doth not intreat in thin place openly of the whole nature of baptism, but speaking of the forgiveness of sins, doth, by the way, declare that the confirmation thereof is in baptism, there doth no inconvenience follow, if ye do omit the other part. [128]


In the name of Christ. Although baptism be no vain figure, but a true and effectual testimony; notwithstanding, lest any man attribute that unto the element of water which is there offered, the name of Christ is plainly expressed, to the end we may know that it shall be a profitable sign for us then, if we seek the force and effect thereof in Christ, and know that we are, therefore, washed in baptism, because the blood of Christ is our washing; and we do also hereby gather, that Christ is, the mark and end whereunto baptism directeth us; wherefore, every one profiteth so much in baptism as he learneth to look unto Christ. But here ariseth a question, Whether it were lawful for Peter to change the form prescribed by Christ? The Papists do think, at least feign so, and thence do they take a color of liberty to change or abrogate the institutions of Christ. They confess that nothing ought to be changed, as touching the substance, but they will have the Church to have liberty to change whatsoever it will in the form. But this argument may easily be answered. For we must first know that Christ did not indite and rehearse unto his apostles magical words for enchanting, as the Papists do dream, but he did, in few words, comprehend the sum of the mystery. Again, I deny that Peter doth speak in this place of the form of baptism; but he doth simply declare that the whole strength [129] of baptism is contained in Christ; although Christ cannot be laid hold on by faith without the Father by whom he was given us, and the Spirit by the which he reneweth and sanctifieth us. The answer consisteth wholly in this, that he intreateth not in this place of the certain form of baptizing, but the faithful are called back unto Christ, in whom alone we have whatsoever baptism doth prefigure unto us; for we are both made clean by his blood, and also we enter into a new life by the benefit of his death and resurrection.


Ye shall receive the gift of the Spirit. Because they were touched with wondering when they saw the apostles suddenly begin to speak with strange tongues, Peter saith that they shall be partakers of the same gift if they will pass over unto Christ. Remission of sins and newness of life were the principal things, and this was, as it were, an addition, that Christ should show forth unto them his power by some visible gift. Neither ought this place to be understood of the grace of sanctification, which is given generally to all the godly. Therefore he promiseth them the gift of the Spirit, whereof they saw a pattern in the diversity of tongues. Therefore this doth not properly appertain unto us. For because Christ meant to set forth the beginning of his kingdom with those miracles, they lasted but for a time; yet because the visible graces which the Lord did distribute to his did shoe, as it were in a glass, that Christ was the giver of the Spirit, therefore, that which Peter saith doth in some respect appertain unto all the whole Church: ye shall receive the gift of the Spirit. For although we do not receive it, that we may speak with tongues, that we may be prophets, that we may cure the sick, that we may work miracles; yet is it given us for a better use, that we may believe with the heart unto righteousness, that our tongues may be framed unto true confession, (Romans 10:10,) that we may pass from death to life, (John 5:24) that we, which are poor and empty, may be made rich, that we may withstand Satan and the world stoutly. Therefore, the grace of the Spirit shall always be annexed unto baptism, unless the let be in ourselves.” (1)


Calvin explains that baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality, a public declaration of one's faith in Christ and the forgiveness of sins, rather than a means of obtaining salvation. This interpretation is consistent with the broader Reformed understanding of salvation by grace through faith alone.


In summary, Reformed theology interprets Acts 2:38 in light of the broader biblical teaching on salvation, arguing that the Greek grammar supports the understanding that baptism is a response to the remission of sins rather than a prerequisite for it.


The above study was Groked and perfected with Grammarly AI.


“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)




1.      John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries, Acts, Volume 18, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), pp. 116-121.


Mr. Kettler is a respected author who has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife, Marea, are active Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church members. Mr. Kettler's extensive work includes 18 books defending the Reformed Faith, which are available for order online at Amazon.