Is Baptism Essential for Salvation? – Program 1
By: John Ankerberg Show
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Jimmy Allen, Dr. James Bjornstad, Dr. Jerry Jones, Rev. David Kingdon; ©1982|
|Is baptism necessary for salvation, or is salvation by faith in Christ as Lord and savior apart from baptism? Is baptism part of man’s “faith-response” to the grace of God?|
The following material is divided into four sections, corresponding to the four half hour programs as they aired. Each segment includes first the written copy directly from the program as aired, then separate comments by either Dr. Jones or Dr. Allen, and finally some concluding remarks by Dr. Ankerberg.
(This information was valid at the time this program was taped.)
Dr. Jerry Jones, Church of Christ evangelist, Professor of Bible at Harding University
Dr. Jimmy Allen, Church of Christ evangelist, Professor at Harding University
Dr. James Bjornstad, Professor of Northeastern Bible College, author, lecturer and a director of the Institute of Contemporary Christianity.
Rev. David Kingdon, Baptist minister, author and former college principal in Ireland.
Program 1: Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation?
What is Necessary for Salvation?
- Dr. John Ankerberg: We’ve got some distinguished gentlemen on the stage, and tonight we’re going to get right down to the topic of the evening, and that is, “What is necessary for salvation?” I have asked one of you from each side to start us off with four minutes of defining your position of what do the Scriptures say about salvation. What is necessary, and where does baptism come in? Alright, Dr. James Bjornstad will start for the first four minutes, and then Dr. Jerry Jones will have four minutes. Dr. Bjornstad, if you’ll start us off please.
- Dr. James Bjornstad: I believe that salvation, as I study the Bible, is that which is given by God’s grace and that it is God’s doing, and that it is appropriated to us by faith or trust or believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior apart from and before baptism. I do believe that baptism is an ordinance which Christ commands us to participate in, but that it has nothing to do with salvation. I find this basically to be true of the entire Bible. One studies the Old Testament the theme, as well as in the New Testament, is “justification by faith.” Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him by God for righteousness. [Rom. 4:3] In Habakkuk 2:4 the same text, “The just shall live by faith,” which you find in the book of Romans. [Rom. 1:17]
- I also find that in the New Testament there are many instances in which salvation – remission of sins – is given apart from baptism. For example, in John 3, the statement to Nicodemus by our Lord was that unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. At that point, Jesus received an answer from Nicodemus in which Nicodemus said that “How can I be born unless I enter my mother’s womb the second time?” Jesus continues the natural argument and says that, “unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God. That which is flesh is flesh and that which is spirit is spirit.” [John 3:3-6] I take that to understand not only physical birth is necessary, but a spiritual birth which comes from trusting Christ. The same thing might also be said in Luke 23 of the thief on the cross who Jesus said would be with Him in paradise that day. [Luke 23:43]
- In Acts 2:38, I believe the passage is very clear, not for the position of the Church of Christ but rather for the position that I uphold. The beginning statement is in the plural, “You are to repent.” And then it says, “and be baptized,” which is a singular. Then the context from there, “each one of you.” But when it comes to the remission of your sins, humin is plural, which takes us back to repentance, and receiving the Holy Spirit again is plural, taking us back to repentance. So the passage actually teaches that when one repents, he not only receives remission of sins, but he receives the Holy Spirit. Then following that he is to be baptized, “each one of you,” which is the singular text.
- In Acts 10, the same thing could be said for Cornelius’ household. As I look at it in verse 44, the Holy Spirit fell upon all of those who were listening to the message. In verse 47 they receive the Holy Spirit, and if you look at Peter’s comments, “just as we did,” and then verse 48, baptism follows that. In Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” After he believes, he washes and then he is baptized. But the interesting statement in verse 34 is that he rejoices greatly because he believed in God. So I believe that the New Testament and in the Old Testament the Bible itself teaches that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ apart from and previous to baptism.
- Ankerberg: Okay. Thank you, Dr. Bjornstad. Dr. Allen, please.
- Dr. Jimmy Allen: We believe that in the Christian age which began on Pentecost day that people are justified by faith, that salvation is not merited; it cannot be earned, it cannot be deserved. But we believe in the Christian age that those who are justified by faith are people who have been baptized, and that baptism is not a work of man’s righteousness, but that it is a part of man’s faith-response to the grace of God.
- In Galatians 3:26-27, Paul said, “You are all the sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” He affirmed in Galatians 3:26 that they were children of God by faith. And beginning at verse 27 he said, “For [and that word in the original language means to introduce the reason] as many of you as been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” That is, they were children of God by faith inasmuch as they have been baptized. So baptism is a part of man’s faith-response to the amazing grace of God.
- As far as the thief on the cross is concerned, we believe that he was saved. But the thief on the cross was saved before the new covenant went into force. According to Hebrews 9:16-17, a covenant does not become effective until after a man dies, and Christ had not yet died when He said to the thief on the cross, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” [Luke 23:43] So he was saved while the old covenant was still effective and he was saved before the new covenant had become effective. Baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ was not valid for the thief on the cross.
- Jim said a while ago that in Acts 2:38, “Repent ye,” is the second person plural and that is correct; “and be baptized” is the third person singular, and that is correct. I’m not quite sure what he said after that, but I’m sure it will become clear during the discussion. At any rate, I would like to point out that we are told to, “repent ye [second person plural] and be baptized every one of ye.” Now that word is also plural. Humon is plural. “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of ye, and ye, shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” It’s like trying to determine what is the difference in saying, “All of you repent,” and “every one of you be baptized.” The only difference is “Every one of you be baptized,” is more emphatic. And it shows they were to “repent” first; “be baptized,” that’s second; and “ye shall receive remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.” I might raise this question. Suppose it read, “Repent ye, and have faith, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remissions of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit?” What would be wrong with that statement grammatically if it read that way? If instead of saying, “be baptized,” it said, “have faith, every one of you,” what would be wrong with it?
- In the case of Cornelius in Acts 10:44-48, we believe that Cornelius received the baptismal measure of the Holy Spirit, not in order to save him, but to prove that Gentiles had a right to hear the gospel. There were three miracles performed in connection with Cornelius’ conversion: Peter had a vision on the housetop; Cornelius had a vision; and Cornelius and his group were baptized in the Spirit. And not one of these three miracles had anything to do with the conversion process. He was baptized in the Spirit according to Acts 10:46-48, and according to Acts 11:15-18, to prove to the Jews and Gentiles had a right to have the gospel preached to them. Acts 10:43, Cornelius believed; Acts 11:18 Cornelius repented; and Acts 10:48, Cornelius was baptized. And that’s in perfect harmony with the great commission.
- Ankerberg: Alright, let me ask you this, Jimmy. If Acts 2:38 says to “repent” and not to “repent and be baptized,” what would that do to your view? If it actually said that.
- Allen: It doesn’t say that.
- Ankerberg: If it did, would that be a devastating blow?
- Allen: No, sir. In Acts 11:18 we are told that Cornelius repented unto life, and the only thing specified in the verse is repentance. No, it would not be a devastating blow to me.
- Ankerberg: We’ll, let’s take Cornelius next, but let’s deal with Acts 2:38. Dr. Bjornstad, you said something about Acts 2:38, and we didn’t hear the ending apparently. What was it?
- Bjornstad: Okay, the point that was made by Jimmy is the fact that the statement, “each one of you,” plural. He’s correct, but his mistake is the fact that “each one” is the Greek word that is always used for “each one separately or individually.” Had Peter intended for the fact that it would have been “you repent” and “you be baptized,” he would have made both of them imperatives and he would have made both of them the second person. He did not do that. All I can do is quote what A. T. Robertson said years ago that is, “You can ignore the grammar and build a doctrine of repentance and baptism, but you do so by ignoring the grammar.” Had Peter intended it, he simply would have made both of them second person plural aorist tense. He didn’t.
- Ankerberg: And what I like about Jimmy and Jerry and David and Jim, is all of us agree that the Bible is our authority. We are not coming as people who do not know the Lord for our debating Scripture tonight. We believe that the Bible is the authority. It’s the very inspired Word of God. The words count, and so one side or the other is correct, and it’s going to be decided not on necessarily on what we think, but on what the Scriptures say. So that’s where we’re keeping it. And I know you gentlemen are supremely able to divide the Word of God, so let’s continue talking about that.
- Dr. Jerry Jones: Let me say something about this plural and singular. Stay in the same chapter and you can illustrate this. Look at Acts 2:8. It says, “How is it that we each hear them in his own language?” You see, you the plural and the singular, but they are overlapping. They are not talking about two different groups. You see, you have the plural then “each” is the same thing that you have over here. So they are overlapping. And this is just the way that the Greeks expressed it that way. So he’s not talking about two different groups.
- Bjornstad: But one mistake that he does make in that when he does it is that he doesn’t pick up on verses 9 and 10. Because the focus is on each one separately. They heard it in Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia. That is, each one of them heard the dialect themselves. So therefore I think what he is trying to indicate is to get out of the fact that you have a change from the plural to the singular. It’s not that they all heard the same thing. They all individually heard different things, just as each one must be individually baptized. That’s my point by the language.
- Jones: But the “we” includes all those people. There’s nobody excluded. You see, what he is trying to do is exclude some folks, but you see, the “each” modifies the “we.” So to say we’re talking about one group is to repent and the other group is to be baptized, it doesn’t fit with verse 8 because they are overlapping.
- Ankerberg: Jimmy?
- Allen: In Acts 2:38, he said “repent ye and be baptized every one of you.” And “repent ye,” is a collective. “Be baptized every one of you” is a distributive, where you deal with the people as individuals. It’s like saying, “All of you repent, and every one of you be baptized.” [Acts 2:38] If you had been present on the Pentecost Day and had heard that sermon about the death and the resurrection of Jesus, and if you had cried out, “what must we do,” and you had heard from the lips of the apostle Peter, “Repent ye, all of you repent, and every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” I submit to you the grammatical argument which is being made would have carried no weight. “For the remission of sins,” does not have person nor does it have number. “For the remission of sins” has neither. They were told, “all of you repent, and every one of you be baptized, for the remission of sins.” Jim, there is not person or number in “for the remission of sins.” Now, to which of the verbs does that go? Does that go with baptism, or does it go with repent? One more time, if he had said, “repent ye, and have faith every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” this grammatical argument would not be made.
- Bjornstad: The point that I would make in response to that is simply the fact that he argues basically from the English language trying to make a point. If somebody did hear it in Greek – but it is written in Greek at this point – it’s very clear in the language. It begins with “you [plural] repent,” and then it goes on from there to tie together the remission of sins. Remission is singular genitive and then you have a plural regarding sins, of you, humin, is plural. It has to tie together with that which is commanded, which is plural. What is separate from that is the part that says that you are “to be baptized each one of you,” which takes a different form. Now you can argue from English all you want that you are saying the same thing, and that’s what my brother is doing over here. But from the Greek language you cannot do that. I think Greek scholars would tell you that.
- Ankerberg: So you are saying that a person that was listening in Greek would understand that there was a progression and that repentance is tied to remission of sins and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. And baptism is not because why?
- Bjornstad: Because it’s a third person singular and following from that, “each one of you separately,” the term that is used, is to be involved in that. So the other part that is tied to it, if you follow the language, has to relate to that which is plural command.
- Ankerberg: Could we make a comment either on that or could we make a comment in going on to the thief on the cross?
- Dr. David Kingdon: The arguments of our friends is the thief on the cross was not saved under the new covenant, because the new covenant was not yet in force on the basis of Hebrews 9:17, namely that the covenant or testament comes into force on the death of the testator, in this case, Jesus Christ. So He had not yet died, therefore, the thief on the cross was not saved under the new covenant, right?
- Allen: That’s correct.
- Kingdon: Now, could I ask you the question, who died first: the thief or the Lord Jesus Christ?
- Allen: I don’t know who died first, but Jesus was still alive when He said it.
- Kingdon: I can tell you who died first. From John 19, “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day (for that sabbath day was a high day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken [in order to hasten their death], and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. [So the two thieves had their legs broken in order to hasten their death.] But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs.” [John 19:31-33] So the new covenant was already in force before the thief died. And I don’t see how you can escape from it.
- Allen: The Lord saved the thief before he died.
- Kingdon: Where’s the text for that?
- Allen: When he said, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” [Luke 23:43] The Lord didn’t say that when He was dead!
- Kingdon: Of course, He didn’t.
- Allen: The Lord was still living when He said it.
- Kingdon: Right.
- Allen: And according to Hebrews 9:16-17, the covenant did not go into force until after He died.
- Kingdon: But that doesn’t meet the point that the Testament came into force before the thief died.
- Allen: He was saved while Jesus was alive.
- Kingdon: He was going to be with Christ in paradise on the basis of the new covenant.
- Allen: That I deny.
- Kingdon: Well, that I affirm. He was given a promise, that he would be in paradise with the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Allen: Thus he was saved at that moment.
- Kingdon: No, not necessarily. We are not told precisely when he was saved. He was given a promise. We are not told at what point he believed the promise.
- Ankerberg: We’re going to have to pick this up next week. We’re out of time for now.
John Ankerberg’s remarks on Cornelius
I want to say thank you to all four men for sharing with us their views. I am especially grateful for the manner in which they did so. Now each of them holds that the Bible is the final authority and that it is not saying two different things. After listening to the men, would you permit me the opportunity of sharing with you some conclusions this discussion brought me? In doing so, I certainly do not want you to think that I am presenting myself as the final authority on this matter. God forbid! Rather, in examining the biblical evidence I hope that it will help us all come to the right decision and whether or not a person can receive salvation from God before he receives water baptism.
Now, I think you would agree that Acts 10, the conversion story of Cornelius which the men brought up tonight, has an important bearing on this question. God told Cornelius by an angel that he would hear “a message” from the apostle Peter. The message Peter preached begins at verse 34 and ends when he is interrupted by the Holy Spirit 241 words later. [Acts 10:34-44] We are told that just at the point when Peter was telling them that the forgiveness of sins would come to everyone who believes in Jesus, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those listening to the message. Now, apparently Cornelius and the Gentiles reached out to God for the forgiveness Peter was telling them about. They received, as God’s response, the Holy Spirit. Paul teaches us in Romans 8:9 that anyone who has the Holy Spirit is a Christian. If one does not have the Spirit, no matter what else he does or believes, he is not a Christian.
After Cornelius had received the Holy Spirit and had been made a Christian, then he was baptized. Here the order of events leading to his salvation is of interest to us. First, he heard the Word of God. Second, he believed. Third, God responded to his faith by giving him the Holy Spirit, who according to Acts 15:9 cleansed their hearts and made them Christians. Now the last thing that happened was that he was baptized. Scripture teaches that Cornelius and the Gentiles, like the apostles and like the 120 at Pentecost, received salvation by faith alone in Jesus before they received water baptism.
But now some might ask if Acts 11:15 changes the order of events we have just listed. Doesn’t Peter say in verse 15, “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them?” It sounds like the Holy Spirit fell before Cornelius and the Gentiles heard any message at all: that the Holy Spirit fell before they had a chance to believe. And doesn’t Peter say in the first few verses of Acts 11 that he will report the events surrounding Cornelius, “in orderly sequence?” Well, we will look at these verses. I think there’s some solid reasons why the order of events already mentioned should not be changed.
Dr. Jimmy Allen – Response to John Ankerberg’s remarks on Cornelius
John seems to be confused about who receives the Spirit. He said, “Anyone who has the Spirit is a Christian.” However, three times he said those at the house of Cornelius were “made” Christians by baptism in the Holy Spirit. Is one a Christian when he receives the Spirit or is he made a Christian by receiving the Spirit? It cannot be both ways. Although John’s statements appear contradictory, it is clear that he believes people are made Christians by a reception of the Spirit. Paul took an opposite view when he said, “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts” (Gal. 4:6). The Spirit comes because of sonship rather than to produce sonship. However, in the case of Cornelius, it is admitted that Spirit baptism did not make him a son or give evidence that he was a son. He was baptized in the Spirit to prove to the Jews that Gentiles had a right to hear the gospel and be received into the kingdom (Acts 11:15-20). For proof to establish this proposition, read “My Response to Ankerberg’s Remarks on Holy Spirit Baptism” following Program 3.
Twice John made the statement that the Spirit (by which he means Spirit baptism) cleansed the hearts of Cornelius and those with him. This is an assumption. Not one time does Scripture say anyone was cleansed by Spirit baptism. The apostles received Spirit baptism on Pentecost and it was not to save them. The same can be said of Cornelius. Acts 15:9, to which Ankerberg appealed, says their hearts were cleansed by faith rather than by the Spirit. The issue deals with when the cleansing by faith came. John assumes (I deny) they believed, received the Spirit (i.e. Spirit baptism), were saved and then baptized in water. The faith (trust) which saves includes water baptism. “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27). They were the sons of God by faith. Why? They had been baptized into Christ! In like manner, Cornelius was made a son by faith when he was baptized. The conditions for salvation revealed in the great commission are belief, repentance and baptism (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47), all of which are mentioned in the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10:43, 48; 11:18). People make a mistake when they overlook these conditions and magnify the unusual circumstances surrounding his conversion. Again, I remind you to see my remarks at the end of program three
Peter said, “The Holy Spirit fell on them, as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). Apparently, John and I agree that “the beginning” is a reference to Pentecost. This point is devastating to his view. Although similar language is used to describe what took place in Samaria (i.e. “fall” and “fallen,” Acts 8:14-17), the identical event of Holy Spirit baptism at the house of Cornelius had not occurred since Pentecost, yet thousands had been saved (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 6:7) between those two dates of approximately six years. In other words, those thousands were saved without Spirit baptism and this should prove that Spirit baptism had nothing to do with the salvation of those at the home of Cornelius.
When did Holy Spirit baptism occur? John thinks the precise order of events is found in Acts, chapters 10 and 15. However, the one passage which specifically mentions “order” is Acts 11:4. It says, “Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them.” Kathexes, the Greek word translated as “order,” means “one after another, successively, in order” (J. H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 313). “The term denotes that the apostle furnished a detailed and regular statement of all the facts, in the order in which they successively occurred” (J. P. Lange, A Commentary on The Holy Scriptures – Acts, p. 211). There are no contradictions in the three accounts. The section which speaks of “order” should be used to determine the sequence of events in the passages where order is not specified. This approach is opposite to the one John espouses. In relating the events “by order,” Peter said the Spirit fell on the Gentiles “as I began to speak” (Acts 11:15). John admitted that the words sound like the Holy Spirit fell before the Gentiles heard the message. He then took the view that such is not the case.
Although the Gentiles knew something about Jesus (Acts 10:36-37) prior to Peter’s arrival, they were brought to faith in Christ and saved by his proclamation of the gospel (Acts 15:7; 11:14). Since the Spirit fell as Peter began to speak, if He fell to prove the Gentiles were already saved, they were saved before Peter began to speak. This would mean they were saved without hearing Peter’s message and such stands in opposition to the word of God. If the Spirit came to save them, then He saved them as Peter began to speak rather than after his full presentation of the good news.
Here, then, is the orderly sequence of what happened: Peter began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell, Peter finished his sermon, the people believed (Acts 10:43), repented (Acts 11:18) and were baptized (Acts 10:48), at which time their hearts were cleansed by faith (Acts 15:9) through their obedience to the words of Peter (Acts 11:14). Actually, it does not matter when the Spirit fell if one understands why it happened.
In his conclusion, John said, “From this, it would appear that a man can receive salvation before receiving water baptism.” The six verses which connect baptism and salvation reverse his arrangement. Consider the following: baptism and then remission (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 2:38); baptism and then salvation (Mark 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21); baptism and then washing away of sins (Acts 22:16). This can be said because when one is biblically baptized, he reaches the death of Christ (Rom. 6:3) which takes away his sins (Matt.26:28).
Closing Remarks on Cornelius
Ankerberg: Do we become sons of God when we place our faith in Christ or when the Holy Spirit comes into our lives? Paul states it both ways: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 3:26); “For you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). NEB and NIV: “You have received a Spirit that makes us sons, enabling us to cry, Abba, Father.”
Before a person receives the Spirit, He is not a Christian. “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, He does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9). The moment the Spirit indwells a person, he is a Christian. Jesus said, “Unless one is born from above he cannot see the Kingdom of God…. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:3,6). John said, “But as many as received Him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). The aorist tense in John 1:13 and John 3:3,5,7 expresses an event rather than a process. The New Birth of the Spirit happens instantaneously when we place our faith in Christ.
In Galatians 4:6, the NEB states: “To prove that you are sons of God, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of His Son, crying Abba, Father!” There is no reason why the word cannot be translated here as having the declarative sense “that” or “to prove that.” But even if we take hoti as meaning “because,” the chronological interpretation (first you’re made a son, next you’re given the Spirit; thus you can be a son of God before you have the Spirit) falls to the ground because it does not grapple with Paul’s two metaphors in Galatians 4:1-7.
First, Paul combines the metaphor of Christians as heirs before their conversion – only heirs under age and no better than slaves; in fact, actually slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. Second, he takes up the slavery metaphor: before their conversion they were slaves; Christ was sent to redeem them. In the first metaphor, a Christian is seen in terms of the heir coming of age; in the second, of the slave becoming an adopted son. But there is not a clean break between the two metaphors, as Paul’s idea of slavery is identified with the under-age heir (Gal. 4:3-7). The time of adoption is the same as the time when the son and heir comes of age. This entry upon the full rights and experience of sonship is effected by the sending of the Spirit of the Son.
What unites the two metaphors is their application to the stages of salvation history. That which is mirrored in the first metaphor and in the individual’s conversion is the break between the covenant of law and works and the covenant of promise and faith. The break between the two covenants was in two stages: the sending of the Son at the incarnation, and the sending of the Spirit of the Son at Pentecost. The coming of the Son and Spirit are mirrored in the individual’s conversion, in the twin aspects of adoption, and the indwelling of the Spirit which he receives at the same time.
Paul’s thought here is logical, not chronological. It is similar to the logical sequence, “If…then” of verse 7. Paul is saying, “As it is the logical consequence of being a son that you should be an heir too, so it is the logical consequence of being a son that you should possess the Spirit.”
In Acts 15:1-14 Peter and the Jerusalem Council concluded more than “Cornelius was baptized in the Spirit to prove to the Jews that Gentiles had a right to hear the gospel and be received into the Kingdom.” What they said was: “God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.” Notice it says they heard, then believed. “God who knows the heart, witnessed to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as He did to us.” Why did Peter mention the part about God knowing their hearts? God witnessed of them that after hearing the message they truly believed. How did God witness their belief? In the giving of the Holy Spirit. Peter goes on to say God “made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”
If the apostle Paul says a person cannot belong to Christ without having the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), then to have the Spirit is to belong to Christ. Nowhere does the Bible teach that the Holy Spirit is given to those who do not believe on Christ, nor does it teach God gives people the Spirit who remain non-Christians. According to Jesus, the Christian life begins with a new birth, and the new birth is a birth of the Spirit. (The reference to water in verse 5 cannot be baptism, because as was mentioned in Program 2 by Dr. Allen, “I don’t believe the New Covenant was in force until Pentecost.”) At the time Christ said this, Christian baptism had not yet been instituted. It would have been impossible for Nicodemus to understand “born of water” as referring to water baptism. Born of water refers to natural birth, which Nicodemus would have understood.
John tells us that those who believed in Jesus were to receive the Holy Spirit (John 7:39). It is the Spirit who imparts life to our dead souls and comes to dwell within us (John 6:63; 14:17).
The Spirit fell on those listening to the message of the gospel when Peter said, “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name every one who believes in Him has received forgiveness of sins.” [Acts 10:43] If you think about what Peter was saying the prophets did not include baptism as a part of their message, did they? The Spirit’s manifestation indicated to the Jewish believers that the people He came upon were at that moment believers. The disciples received the Spirit as believers waiting for the promise to take place for the very first time. Cornelius received the Spirit the moment he believed because Pentecost had already come.
To say that the event of Holy Spirit baptism at the house of Cornelius had not occurred since Pentecost is to forget that Peter thought the falling of the Holy Spirit was the same as the “gift” of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44- 45), and the gift of the Holy Spirit was the same thing promised to all in Acts 2:38. Second, Jesus as Messiah was to baptize with the Spirit as long as He forgives sins (see Program 3 conclusion). Third, 1 Corinthians 12:13 still stands as that which all believers experience. Thus, Spirit baptism – receiving the gift of the Spirit – had everything to do with Cornelius’ salvation.
Anyone who reads Acts 10 and reads the 241 recorded words of Peter’s message and then looks at what Peter was saying when the Holy Spirit was given to Cornelius and the others, will see Cornelius was saved then. If we press Dr. Allen’s interpretation of “the exact order of events as given in chapter 11,” then Peter didn’t say anything as no words are recorded in Acts 11. But Acts chapter 10 lists 241 words of Peter’s message. If the exact meaning of the word “began” can mean “some words” and more than no words, why not the 241 words actually recorded?
What reason can be given to say the 241 words recorded aren’t the real beginning of Peter’s message since that is what the Bible plainly tells us? What reason would Luke have for making us think Peter spoke the 241 words and at that point the Spirit was given to them, when it really didn’t happen that way? The orderly sequence Dr. Allen asks us to believe happened is different from that which is recorded.
Six verses are given supposedly to reverse the “fact” that Cornelius received salvation and then afterwards was baptized. But the Church of Christ teaches that Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3 were part of the message preached before Pentecost, so why use them as proof? Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21, as we have seen, do not say salvation comes when one is baptized. We have seen in Mark 16:16 and 1 Peter 3:21 that baptism is incidental, not causal to salvation. In Acts 22:16, the washing away of sins is linked to calling on the name of the Lord. Romans 6:3 is symbolic, not literal. We were not actually crucified, buried, resurrected, anymore than we are literally united through baptism.
We therefore conclude that baptism is not essential to salvation, and that the evidence plainly shows Cornelius was a saved man before he was baptized in water.
First, Peter’s words are flexible words that do not have to change what we’ve just learned. When he said, “As I began to speak,” [Acts 11:15] it doesn’t necessarily mean he hadn’t said anything at all. It could be that he had a long sermon in his mind. He was a long-winded preacher and he had just gotten the beginning out. Now Luke records 241 words had been spoken before the Holy Spirit fell and interrupted him. Peter thought he was just starting out. F. F. Bruce agrees because in his commentary on Acts he says, “The idea of beginning need not be pressed unduly.” J. H. Moulton’s Grammar of New Testament Greek tells us that Peter “used a word which was commonly used in a redundant way.” What does “redundant” mean? It means excessive, wordy, unnecessary to the meaning. That is why one of Britain’s greatest living Greek scholars, Dr. James Dunn says Peter’s statement, “And as I began to speak,” really should be read, “I had already started speaking when the Holy Spirit fell.” Now these scholars base their interpretation upon the manuscript evidence of Peter’s own day. And this evidence shows that we do not have two contradictory accounts, one in chapter 10 and one in chapter 11.
Secondly, Peter himself in Acts 15 tells us that, (1) the Gentiles heard him preach; (2) that they believed; (3) they were given the Holy Spirit. He tells the entire Jerusalem Council “God made a choice that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the Word of the Gospel and believe.” [Acts 15:7] Then he says, “God who knows the heart bore witness to their faith, giving them the Holy Spirit.” [Acts 15:8] Peter concludes, “[God] made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.” [Acts 15:9] Notice: God saw their hearts, saw their faith, and before they were water-baptized, made them Christians by giving them the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit cleansed their hearts.
From this it would appear that a man can receive salvation before receiving water baptism. If baptism is not necessary for salvation, what does the New Testament teach about its true importance?