Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Acts 2:38 ... At Last

Well, I've been totally distracted from my original research into Acts 2:38 by a great number of topics that are related to each other and stem from the study of this verse. Because I want to post on those other topics though, I feel I need to get Acts 2:38 dealt with. In the context of this blog, namely to disseminate the heretical teachings of cultist, legalistic organizations, this verse is important in that it is the absolute basis of ALL UPCI, salvational teachings. It is used to state that God is modalist and that His name is Jesus (period), that baptism in that name is mandatory and required for salvation, and that the believer will receive the Holy Ghost the same way and with the same manifestations the Apostles did earlier. Of course, as any student of the Bible will tell you, you simply cannot use one verse of scripture as the fundamental basis of your doctrine. You absolutely MUST use the entire canon of scripture to support your belief.

It should be mentioned here that I do not deny the accuracy, potency, and efficacy of Acts 2:38 in reference to the audience that heard it. However, I also ascribe it no greater value than any other scripture in the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16).

Acts 2:38 is an answer to a very specific question by a very specific group of people. In Acts chapter 2, Peter is delivering a sermon to a group of people composed (arguably) exclusively of Jews. There is no reason to believe or state that there were gentiles present at this "conference". This is important because it sets the stage for Peter's entire address, and he even makes reference to it when defining his audience in verses 14 and 22. This passage of scripture is the first time post-resurrection that the Disciples of Jesus appeared as a unified whole before the Jews. Up till this point we read where they were scattered and fearful, but with the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, they gained the confidence of belief and experience. Peter stands up (with the rest of the Disciples) and begins to expound to the incredulous Jewish multitude that this is, in fact, of God. He then gives a scriptural history of Christ, and then (very politely really) tells them they murdered the Messiah.

It is at this point they become "pricked in their hearts". When the question is asked in verse 37 "Men and brethren what shall we do?" (emphasis mine) they are asking as a NATION which is evidenced by their askance as a whole, exclusive group: Brethren. They were not asking simply as humanity, they were asking as the chosen people of God. The laws of Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics require that context and audience be included in all understanding of scripture, and this is no exception. The Jews understood (rightfully) that they were a nation set apart and chosen by God. To them, there was no reason to believe or expect that Peter was talking to Gentiles, nor would Peter have felt a need to discuss the requirements for Gentiles with the Jews present.

It also bears mentioning that Peter was not necessarily thinking about the Gentile nations at this point. When the Holy Ghost was poured out on Gentiles later in Acts, Peter was a bit surprised himself. He knew that God had promised it, but he still seems to have not been expecting it. So when he was speaking to a group of Jews mere minutes or hours after the Holy Ghost was first given, there is absolutely no way to support a belief that he was speaking to the entirety of humanity throughout thousands of years to come.

Legalistic organizations use the reference to repentance in verse 38 to say that you must give up all your sinful ways, and then go on to define what is sin...often with absolutely no regard for scripture or, more specifically, a complete lack of scripture to support their definitions. For instance, you can't drink even a drop of alcoholic beverage because the Bible says so. But wait, you can't smoke a nice cigar either...and God Forbid you wear a pair of shorts!!! However, they use cough syrup when they're ill (I assume they discourage robo-tripping though I've never heard it specifically taught on), they commute on major freeways through large cities where the toxin level in the air far exceeds that of a cigarette or cigar...and they even inhale while they drive (you don't inhale a cigar...that would hurt a fair bit), and they allow their women to wear skirts that are below the knee in length but are so tight they leave absolutely nothing to the imagination...except maybe the colour of thong underneath).

What does all this have to do with repentance in Acts 2:38? Peter was telling an entire nation that they needed to call on God for repentance and forgiveness of the sins of murder and unbelief. He had already told them in verse 21 that if they called on the name of the Lord (he was quoting OT scriptural prophecy) they would be saved. In verse 38 he reiterates it at their request, and gets more specific.

What legalistic cults never see, is that these were DEVOUT JEWS (verse 5) that lived according to the law of Moses, and as such, were not given to hedonistic lifestyles and practices. These were Jews that were against all manner of sin and abhorred what the other nations considered common. The reason they were upset was because they realized they had broken two of the greatest commandments of the OT: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and Thou shalt not commit murder. To them, these were incredible breaches of the scripture, and they were saddened and fearful. Peter told them they had to repent of the old ways of living by the law, and of the old thought patterns that led to their disobedience.

Does repentance still apply to the believer today? Of course! We still must repent of our old thought patterns and selfish ways of life, and we must accept our own responsibility for the death of Jesus as we are sinful in nature. Does this mean that Acts 2:38 applies to us? Not necessarily.

The Jews had just crucified Jesus Christ less than 2 months prior to the events in Acts 2. It was fresh enough in their collective consciousness to be remembered with clarity, but distant enough that they could look on it objectively. They had believed, up until this point, that they were right in what they did, and had most likely begun to rationalize and justify the action. When confronted by the miraculous works done by the Disciples in Acts 2, as well as Peter's assertion of Jesus as the fulfillment of the OT prophecies concerning the Messiah, they were shocked into a place of receptiveness. It is at this point that Peter tells them they must be baptized in the name of the very person they had crucified. There is more to this seemingly simple command than meets the eye however.

To the Jews, being baptized in any name other than that of Jehovah would be sacrilege or blasphemy UNLESS they identified this other name as being of God. Jesus said that if any were ashamed of Him before men, He would be ashamed of them before His Father in heaven, and thus implies that any who are ashamed of being identified with Him on earth will not live eternally with Him in heaven. When Peter told these devout Jews to be baptized and therefore publicly identified with Jesus, he was putting them in a position where they couldn't sit on the fence and play both sides. They were required to prove that they believed and had repented by doing something that went against everything they had believed prior.

All this DOES NOT make baptism a requirement for everyone. It was only required of the Jews, and can be argued that it only applied to those present. To make it a requirement of salvation requires other scriptures that simply do not support it as an absolute. Jesus said "He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be damned." This scripture would appear to place far more emphasis on the necessity of belief than that of baptism. Further, in Acts Chapter 10, the Holy Ghost was poured out on the Gentiles BEFORE they were baptised, and in Acts 15:9 Peter says their hearts were purified by FAITH, not baptism. In Acts 10, Peter commanded them to be baptised after they received the Holy Ghost, but did not preach it as a commandment or a requirement for RECEIVING the Holy Ghost. So we see that it is a proper WORK of the believer, but does not in any way affect salvation, as salvation is not procured through works. If someone receives the Holy Ghost and dies before they can be taught about baptism or before it can be performed, there is no scriptural evidence to support the belief that they are lost.

So back to the text: Peter was making it a commandment to those hearing the sermon, and, by extension, to the Jewish nation. He did not preach it to the gentiles as a requirement, only as a post-salvation work of belief.

In verse 39, Peter says the following: "For the Promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Many modalist, legalistic cults use this verse to justify the universal application of the preceding verse. To do so however, you must ignore two very important grammatical constructions in the sentence:
-1st, it starts with the word "for"...this word means "because", not "because of". He is saying that the Jews have been given the opportunity for Salvation because the Promise is universal...not that the Promise is to everyone because of the preceding sentence.
-2nd, the word "Promise" is preceded by the definite article, not by the word "this". The distinction is very big, because "The Promise" refers to the universal promise of Salvation, where "This Promise" would refer to the preceding verse as the Promise, which we know grammatically is not correct.

Acts 2 does not require baptism for Salvation in any permanent way. Ignoring the arguments about the usage of plurals and tenses in the original greek, it can be easily shown that verse 38 is not setting a pattern of required WORKS for salvation, but rather outlining what Peter felt led to tell the Jews present. Yes, baptism is a correct thing for a believer to do. Yes I believe that if you refuse to be baptized after the scriptural evidence is presented, then there are obvious questions as to why you would refuse. But No I do not believe or agree that you go to hell if you are not baptized. It simply cannot be shown. Even Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:14-17 states he baptized only three people. In that case, how could he be fulfilling the duties and requirements of salvation for those people? The answer is that he didn't consider baptism essential. I'll take his word and example over that of a legalistic, cultish dictatorany day.

God Bless You

PS I encourage you to check out the references when I include them because they often contain additional info and other points of view. I want people to discover the Bible for themselves, and the only way to do that is to study and discover things. I also sometimes include opposing viewpoints (such as the christiancourier.com one) so that the differences are easy to identify and refute.



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