Was Water Baptism Only Required for Jews?

When Jews in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost asked what they should do to be saved, Peter commanded them to “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…Save yourselves” (Acts 2:38, 40). In efforts to explain away the clear teaching of Acts 2 and the necessity of water baptism for salvation today, some claim that water baptism was only required for Jews, not Gentiles, and only for a temporary period. They say that today men should listen to Paul instead of what Peter said in Acts 2. Is that true? Did Peter and Paul preach two different Gospels, two different ways to be saved?

Since those under consideration concede that water baptism was necessary for the Jews to be saved in Acts 2, if it can be proven that this command was for all nations to be saved, their position will be refuted. What many fail to understand or admit is that Acts 2 marks the beginning of the Great Commission that Jesus said was for “every creature” / “all nations” (Jews and Gentiles), beginning at Jerusalem: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:47; Mt. 28:19, 20; Mk. 16:15, 16). The similarities between Luke 24:47 and Acts 2:38 are undeniable, with water baptism implied in Luke 24:47, while explicitly stated in Matthew and Mark’s accounts. Notice the global scope of the Great Commission to teach and baptize all nations for their forgiveness, salvation:

A logical argument can be formed from this information:

  • Acts 2:38-40 proves that the Jews had to be baptized to be forgiven/saved.
  • Acts 2 records the beginning of the Great Commission, in which Jesus required water baptism for all nations until the end of the world (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15, 16; Lk.  24:47).
  • Therefore, since water baptism was required for salvation in Acts 2 at the beginning of the Great Commission, water baptism is required for salvation in all nations until the end of the Great Commission, until the end of the world.

Jesus did not give one Great Commission for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. When those who deny the necessity of baptism today concede the necessity of baptism for salvation in Acts 2, they also concede the necessity of baptism for “every creature” in “all nations” “until the end of the world”! That completely refutes their position, but more evidence will be considered.

Mark’s account most clearly teaches that going “into all the world” and preaching the Gospel includes preaching water baptism for the salvation of “every creature” (both Jews and Gentiles). Note that prayer is not found at all in Jesus’ Great Commission, yet many today are trying to replace baptism with prayer. Jesus did not say, “He who believes and prays shall be saved,” but rather, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16; cf. Jn. 16:23). Prayer for forgiveness under the New Covenant is reserved for those who have already been baptized to be forgiven of all past sins (Acts 8:12-24; 1 Jn. 1:6-9), but many do not understand this and take passages like First John 1:9 out of context (see 1 Jn. 2:12-14), saying prayer is necessary, but not baptism. If the Great Commission is to save the lost (Mk. 16:15, 16), why did Jesus include water baptism in it? Why did He not include prayer? Why did Peter not command prayer for the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:38-40? Why did prayer not save Saul or Cornelius, who were praying before baptism? (Acts 9:11, 18, 19; 10:2, 48; 11:14; 22:16). Why is there no example in the Bible of an alien sinner living under the New Covenant who was told to pray to become saved, to become a Christian?

Looking further into Acts 2, those events were not simply related to the Jews but were basically a precursor of what would happen to the Gentiles in Acts 10. The “promise” of Acts 2:38-39 was not just for the Jews (who were required to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost, Lev. 23:15, 16), but for “all them that are afar off,” which means Gentiles (cf. Acts 2:16-21; Eph. 2:13, 17). Acts 1:8 gives an outline for the book of Acts, with the same Gospel message going into all the world for all men: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Acts 10 records the first Gentiles being converted by the same Peter who commanded repentance and baptism for salvation in Acts 2. Peter commanded the Gentiles to do the same thing as the Jews—“he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48; cf. 2:38). We know from Acts 2:38 the purpose of water baptism in the name of the Lord—it is “for the forgiveness of sins.” On the day the first Gentiles would be saved, Peter said he now realized that in every nation, whether Israel or otherwise, people must do two things to be accepted by God: “…Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). They “worked righteousness” to be accepted by God when they were baptized in water for forgiveness as God commanded (Acts 10:6, 34, 35, 43, 47, 48; cf. Psa. 119:172).

In the Book of Acts, water baptism is a consistent command to all, whether Jews or Gentiles, and none of them were commanded to pray to become Christians (Acts 2:38-41; 8:12, 35-39; 9:6, 18-19; 10:6, 34-35, 48; 16:15, 32-33; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16).

Also, Paul was not preaching a different Gospel than Peter. Both Peter and Paul preached salvation by grace through faith. Notice what Peter said about Cornelius and the other Gentiles: “God…put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith…we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:8, 9, 11). In other words, Jews and Gentiles are both saved in the same way, and there is “no difference”! Paul wrote that he had preached the same thing “revealed unto…holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5). Note that apostles is plural. Paul’s message was not exclusive to him. The same Holy Spirit had guided all of the apostles and prophets into the same Truth. Paul also said he preached the faith which once he destroyed (Gal. 1:23), which means he was preaching the same message that Peter and others had preached before Paul’s conversion. There is one Gospel system of faith that was once for all delivered (Jude 3; cf. Rom. 1:5, 16; 16:26; Eph. 2:11-18; 4:4-5).

The Book of Acts records Paul’s travels and conversions among both Jews and Gentiles, with him sometimes preaching to both groups simultaneously (Acts 13:16, 42, 48, etc.). He was preaching the same message to everybody, the same message Jesus commanded and other Christians were preaching-“obedience to the faith among all nations” (Rom. 1:5; cf. 1:16; 6:3-5; 16:26; 1 Cor 4:17; 7:17).

Just as Jesus commanded, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” is consistently seen in Paul’s conversions of Lydia, the Philippian jailor, the Corinthians, and the Ephesians (Acts 16:15, 32-33; 18:8; 19:5).

Paul emphasized the necessity of water baptism in many of his epistles, writing twice that penitent sinners must be “baptized into” Christ (Rom. 6:3-5, 16-18; Gal. 3:27-28; cf. 1 Cor. 6:11; Col. 2:11-13; Titus 3:5, etc.). He also wrote that there is only “one baptism…the washing of water” commanded in God’s Word for sanctification and spiritual cleansing (Eph. 4:5; 5:26). Paul himself (a Jew) had been commanded to be baptized to wash away his sins, and he did so before getting a bite to eat after fasting three days, understanding the urgency of the situation (Acts 22:16; 9:18-19). Paul, in writing to Galatians who were apparently mostly Gentiles, wrote that people are baptized into Christ, where there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27-28; cf. Acts 15:9; Col. 3:11).

Some claim that there was a transitional phase regarding how men became saved, and even if God required water baptism in Acts 2, that was only for a short period. Not only does that contradict what Jesus said in the Great Commission, but it was many years after the events of Acts 2 (and Acts 10 when the first Gentiles were converted) when Peter wrote, “water…baptism doth also now save us” (1 Pet. 3:20, 21). Why was Peter still writing about water baptism being necessary for man’s salvation years after the alleged “transitional phase” had ended? Paul’s writings teaching the necessity of baptism were also written after that alleged phase would have ended.

God very plainly said that He made no distinction between how Jews and Gentiles were saved (Acts 15:9), but false teachers today are trying to make God a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34, 35), alleging divisions and distinctions between Jews and Gentiles where God made none (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:13-17, etc.). Furthermore, they do this attempting to remove baptism from God’s plan of salvation, which He very plainly required in multiple passages!

Peter said that some who are “unlearned and unstable” twist Scriptures (like those written by Paul) to their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:15-18). Today this most often happens when people read Paul’s writings against works of the Law of Moses and use those passages to teach that water baptism is not necessary. They fail to understand the context and twist those Scriptures to their destruction and, sadly, to the destruction of many others. Then they feel they must try to explain away the Great Commission of Christ and the powerful clarity of passages like Acts 2:38-40! All the while they fail to explain why there are no Biblical examples of any alien sinners praying to become saved under the New Covenant, but rather baptism is consistently recorded, along with its purpose of forgiveness.

If someone today misunderstands the scope and commands of the Great Commission, he is in deadly error regarding one of the most important parts of the entire Bible! Rather than inventing strange doctrines to try to explain away the Great Commission and the necessity of water baptism, men should have enough faith to believe everything God says is involved in salvation. Faith comes from God’s Word, and without faith it is impossible to please Him (Rom. 10:17; Heb. 11:6). Those who love the Truth will study diligently and learn how all the Scriptures regarding salvation fit together (1 Tim. 2:3, 4; 2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Pet. 3:15-18). Friends, Jesus commanded water baptism for the salvation of “every creature” in “all nations” “until the end of the world,” and we should all be able to say “Amen” to that, just as Matthew did (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15, 16; Lk. 24:47).

4 thoughts on “Was Water Baptism Only Required for Jews?”

  1. Excellent article, brother Jason. I’m not sure how anyone could get past the fact that Paul was praying in Acts 9:10,11 when the Lord told Ananias to go find Paul (Saul of Tarsus). That prayer did not wash away Paul’s sins, as we learn in Acts 22:16. Then we know Cornelius was praying in Acts 10:2-4, but prayer is not what saved him, as we learn in the remainder of Acts 10 and 11.

    1. Great thoughts! I didn’t think about that when writing this, but I added it into the article. Thanks

  2. Logic would tell people that since the *same* Spirit that guided Paul also guided Peter and the others. And since the Apostles were *unified* with the *same* message, we can be confident without a shadow of a doubt that Peter also taught to believe that Christ died, was buried and resurrected. How would anyone read his epistles and come away without believing the death, burial and resurrection? To say Peter would not say that or teach that is to say the Spirit failed at guiding him into all truth to bring remembrance what Jesus taught, which is an extremely dangerous view. Do people actually believe the Spirit would not have Peter remember or teach that Jesus died, buried and resurrected? Do people actually believe He would not have had Peter (or any other others) tell people to believe the death, burial and resurrection?

    The Holy Spirit guided the Apostles into *all* truth to bring remembrance to what Jesus taught them (John 14:26, 16:13). Jesus also told them before He ascended into heaven what He said in Mark 16:16, Luke 24:49 and said “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). Whatever the Spirit revealed through the Apostles of *how* to be saved you can be sure Jesus taught them during His earthly ministry. We find in the gospels Christ commanded repentance (Luke 13:3), confession (Matt. 10:32), baptism (John 3:5, Mark 16:16, Matthew 28:19), living faithfully (John 10:27), etc etc. We also find those taught in Paul’s epistles as well (2 Cor. 7:10, Rom. 10:9-10, Rom. 6:3-6, Gal. 3:26-27, Col. 1:23). What one Apostle taught how to be saved the other did as well!

    In Gal 1:23, Paul said “But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.”

    Paul was speaking of himself when he wrote that. Notice how he said he now preaches the faith which he once destroyed. What faith was this? The same that Peter and the other apostles taught.

    The CSB and NKJV version should clear up any confusion as to them not teaching the same. Words that are in CAPS are for emphasis

    Acts 15:9 “He made NO DISTINCTION between us and them, cleansing their hearts by FAITH.
    10 “Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?
    11 “On the CONTRARY, we believe that we are SAVED through the GRACE of the Lord Jesus in the SAME WAY they are.”

    Acts 15:24 “we gave NO such commandment”

    Commandment to what? Circumcision. Who gave the commandment? Judaizers. If Peter and the other apostles and sound faithful brethren were teaching law then there’d have been no need for them to say “we gave such no commandment”

    Acts 15:7 — gospel to the Gentiles
    Acts 15:9 — purifying their hearts by faith. (The text does not say purifying their hearts by works of the law)
    Acts 15:11 — through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

    As we can see, Peter and the others were *against* works of the law. It was the Judaizers that were binding the works of the law. NOT the apostles. I reiterate, in Acts 15, Peter made it clear he believed in being saved by grace as he recollects taking the gospel to the Gentiles. He took the gospel to the Gentiles *before* the event at the council in Jerusalem ever happened and he stated “through the GRACE of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the SAME MANNER as they.” NKJV

    Peter taught being saved by grace through faith!

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