Baptismal Regeneration

The theory of baptismal regeneration teaches that baptism is an effectual sign: that it causes that which it signifies. Roman Catholics, followers of Alexander Campbell and 'Oneness' Pentecostals teach this doctrine, which goes back to Cyprian and other early church writers. The phrase 'baptismal regeneration' is not a slur, but a recap of what adherents of this doctrine are prone to say: "When the recipient has the correct disposition, baptism produces a spiritual rebirth." (Catholic Encyclopedia, Article 'Baptism,' 1965). Is it Biblical?

Dead Men Walking The Like Figure
Flag Factory Living Waters
Thief on the Cross Frozen Lake
Preach the Gospel Wind Blows
Martin Luther John Calvin
Answer New Lives for Old
Heart of Flesh Prayer Wheels
Born Again John Gill
Whosoever Believes Synonym
Nature of Sin Mark 16
Infant Baptism Renewed in the Image

Return to answering 'Oneness' Pentecostalism...

  • “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

  • (Titus 3:5-7).

Dead Men Walking

Death row inmates, they say, are dead men walking. Baptism depicts a death scene, the execution of the old Adam: "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;..." (Colossians 2:12-13). Baptism depicts the death of the old man and the birth of the new: "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4). Whenever you see a news photo of a man being led to his execution, you'll notice burly guards walking to either side, and perhaps chains on the convict's ankles. These are not for show; should the guards busy themselves with other matters, turn their backs and leave the door open, the inmate scheduled for execution would very likely skip out. Few people willingly walk to their own execution. At baptism, the old man is scheduled to be put to death. So which man is it who walks to the baptism: the old or the new?

My baptizes at a lake, weather permitting, obliging brethren to park their cars some distance from the lake and walk down a woods trail to the beach. If the 'old men' walking to baptism were to bolt and run, who could catch up, tackle them and drag them back down to the water? According to the baptismal regenerationists, it's the old man who's walking down that trail -- knowing he is walking to his death! But who willingly walks to his own execution?- and the old man knows how to read, after all!

Thus it must be the new man, toddling upon his stubby little infant legs, who makes it from the car to the lake. So the theory that he is not yet born until he emerges from the water fails. Rather, baptism is a testimony to God's mighty deeds, already undertaken, not the cause of their beginning.

The Like Figure

What does Peter say baptism is for? He answers that baptism is a symbol, i.e., an 'antitypos': "Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure ['antitypos'] whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him." (1 Peter 3:20-22 KJV). Notice he refers to baptism as "the like figure." This is what 'antitype' literally means. Although later the word would come to mean the reality fulfilling a prophetic symbol, 'type' and 'antitype' had not yet taken on their stereotyped meaning in New Testament usage. The KJV translation is literal and accurate.

What's a "figure"? It's a symbol or a sign.

What does it mean when Peter says that baptism is "the like figure" (antitype) to the flood of Noah's day? In modern Bible study we use the word 'type' of the Old Testament figure which prefigures a New Testament fulfillment, as for instance the animal sacrifices of the Jewish temple pointed to Christ's sacrifice. However that usage (type--->antitype) was not yet stereotyped when Peter wrote this. Noah's flood, which destroyed the human race except for eight persons, was not a simple prefiguring of Christian baptism. Rather, it is a like figure; anti=corresponding, typos=figure, stamp, pattern. What Peter is saying is that baptism is 'symbolic speech' as we would call it. For instance when someone burns an American flag to protest the proposed burning of the Koran, he is making a point: 'I hate America,' though his lips are not moving.

In what way does New Testament baptism correspond to Noah's flood? The water, in both cases, both cleanses and destroys. Water is the instrument both of destruction to what is corrupt, and of rescue and safety to those spared. The ark was borne up on the waters, and thus eight persons survived an otherwise universal calamity. In a similar vein, baptism symbolizes the believer's death, the death of the old man: "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin." (Romans 6:4-7). So the believer in agreeing to baptism agrees to die, that is to say the 'old man', the man ruined in sin, and to be reborn in the image of Christ.

Thus, "The true solution is that baptism is related to faith, or rather to the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, as the sign is related to the thing signified." (J. Gresham Machen, The Literature and History of New Testament Times, p. 193). Preachers like to say that baptism is 'the outward sign of an inward faith.' This is what Peter is saying when he calls baptism "the answer of a good conscience toward God," and a 'figure' (typos). There is a verbal commitment of faith which accompanies baptism: "And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." (Acts 8:37). But baptism saves as Peter says, not just in virtue of the accompanying verbal statement of faith, but in virtue of its own character as 'symbolic' speech. Faith alone, and nothing else, saves. Baptism itself is a confession of faith, an 'antitype,' a symbolic re-enactment of the believer's death, burial and resurrection in Christ. The believer signals his willingness to suffer death, in hope of rebirth, by performing this process in pantomime. The believer confesses his faith by undergoing this re-enactment, and thus is saved, by faith, and not by any mechanical action of the water or virtue of the administrator: "not the putting away of the filth of the flesh. . ." as Peter says. If we keep our focus on the content of the speech not its form, then all of God's commands harmonize. If however we see baptism as a 'work,' as is prone to happen if we forget its meaning and look upon the act as a thing in itself, counting it as a 'good work' of some sort, we become confused and may find ourselves denying scripture.

Flag Factory

Baptism signifies the new birth, of which it is a picture; the believer dies and is reborn: "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:..." (Romans 6:4-5).

The relation between a symbol and that which it signifies is not commonly one of cause and effect. A symbol can be substituted for that which it signifies; that's what a symbol is for. Thus we say, 'I pledge allegiance to the flag...' Oh? A piece of cloth? No, that which the flag signifies: '...and to the Republic for which it stands.' One can speak of the symbol qua symbol, or as standing for that which it signifies. Thus we say, 'The flag is dragging on the ground,' meaning the piece of cloth; or 'I would die for the flag,' meaning, not the piece of cloth, but the nation for which it stands.

One can ordinarily get along without close analysis; a symbol can invoke that for which it stands, or itself. But there may be occasions when a closer analysis would prevent confusion. If a worker at the flag factory, crying, 'I would die for the flag,' leapt into the maw of a malfunctioning machine, bravely sacrificing his life to rescue the shredded fabric, this would be a category error. The worker has sacrificed his life for the flag, when the nation was not in peril. This is what the legalists do with baptism. Baptism is a legitimate symbol of the new birth; that is its function. Thus it can stand for that which it signifies. But does it, as the baptismal regenerationists claim, also produce that which it signifies? No, because if it did, regeneration would be a work of man, within his control, and the Lord said it is not: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8).

Living Waters

John 3:5 is the main proof-text for baptismal regeneration:

"Jesus answered, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John 3:5).

Jesus speaks elsewhere of waters which give life: "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive..." (John 7:37-39).

'Living water', a phrase referring to 'flowing water,' is taken literally in the Bible as water that gives life. Could stagnant water accomplish a 'birth of water'? It's this brand of water which gives life:

"Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there...On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing." (Ezekiel 27:9-12).
"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." (Revelation 22:1-2).
"For I will pour water on him who is thirsty,
And floods on the dry ground;
I will pour My Spirit on your descendants,
And My blessing on your offspring;
They will spring up among the grass
Like willows by the watercourses.’" (Isaiah 44:3-4).

What could be born of stagnant water but maybe something like algae? While the earthly waters of baptism may provide in their humble way a picture or image of the living waters from heaven, it's the living waters which heal and regenerate, not their earthly semblance.

Thief on the Cross

"Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”" (Luke 23:42-43).

The lightning rapidity of this man's conversion astonishes:

"And the other answering. In this wicked man a striking mirror of the unexpected and incredible grace of God is held out to us, not only in his being suddenly changed into a new man, when he was near death, and drawn from hell itself to heaven, but likewise in having obtained in a moment the forgiveness of all the sins in which he had been plunged through his whole life, and in having been thus admitted to heaven before the apostles and first-fruits of the new Church. . .And so much the more excellent is this grace, that it came beyond the expectation of all. For who would ever have thought that a robber, in the very article of death, would become not only a devout worshiper of God, but a distinguished teacher of faith and piety to the whole world, so that we too must receive from his mouth the rule of a true and proper confession?" (John Calvin, A Commentary on the Harmony of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Volume 3, pp. 238-239).

But who can deny it? We have it from the Lord's own lips that he is in heaven! How to explain it, if baptism is essential for salvation?

'Oneness' Pentecostals and followers of Alexander Campbell deal with the thief by claiming he was judged under the law. But if the thief was judged under the law, he was the unhappiest of men. No one has ever been acquitted by the law: "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified." (Galatians 2:15-16).

Moses condemned the thief: "You shall not steal." (Exodus 20:15). For that matter, Moses condemns everyone: "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.' But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for 'the just shall live by faith.' Yet the law is not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them.'" (Galatians 3:10-12). The law taught what sin is, without giving any means of avoiding it, thus, "I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. " (Romans 7:9).

There's only one way to heaven, and it's not Moses: "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'" (John 14:6). The thief found the way.

'Paradise' is in the third heaven: "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago- whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows - such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows - how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). The exact timing and itinerary that brought Jesus from entombment to resurrection need not be traced, because at any time it can be said of the Lord that He is in heaven: "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven." (John 3:13).

Baptism was no more and no less expected in the thief's lifetime as it would later come to be. John's baptism was the will of God: "But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him." (Luke 7:3). Jesus' followers also baptized: "After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized." (John 3:22). Astonishingly, some of the same people who will tell you that Jesus is telling Nicodemus about baptism in John 3:5, present-tense, will also tell you that...Christian baptism was not instituted until the Day of Pentecost!

A covenant comes into force with the death of the testator: "For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives." (Hebrews 9:16-17). Jesus predeceased the thief: "Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs." (John 19:32-33). Thus the thief died, unbaptized, under the new covenant. If it is not possible for a new covenant believer to enter heaven without baptism...what's the thief doing in Paradise?

Frozen Lake

When a Roman Catholic, follower of Alexander Campbell, or 'Oneness' Pentecostal proposes baptismal regeneration, a good question to ask is, what of the believer who confesses Christ and then dies before having an opportunity to be baptized? This is no idle speculation, in the early church some were martyred immediately upon confession of faith in Christ:

"Homily XIX. is on the Forty Soldier Martyrs of Sebaste, who were ordered by the officers of Licinius, A.D. 320, to offer sacrifice to the heathen idols, and, at their refusal, were plunged for a whole night into a frozen pond in the city, in sight of a hot bath on the brink. One man's faith and fortitude failed him. He rushed to the relief of the shore, plunged into the hot water, and died on the spot. One of the executioners had stood warming himself and watching the strange scene. He had seemed to see angels coming down from heaven and distributing gifts to all the band but one. When the sacred number of forty was for the moment broken thee officer flung off his clothes, and sprang into the freezing pond with the cry, "I am a Christian." Judas departed. Matthias took his place. What trouble wouldst thou not have taken to find one to pray for thee to the Lord! Here are forty, praying with one voice. Where two or three are gathered together in the name of the Lord, there is He in the midst. Who doubts His presence in the midst of forty?" (Prolegomena to the Works of Basil, Homily XIX).

According to strict baptismal regenerationists, that unbaptized executioner-martyr is burning in Hell, in company with the other born-again children of God they imagine to be languishing in those parts. The Roman Catholics escape the dilemma by proposing a 'baptism of desire'; the Bible, however, knows of only one baptism: " Lord, one faith, one baptism;..." (Ephesians 4:5). Better to see that the obviously wrong conclusion invalidates the erroneous premise.

Turn it around the other way. If we identify baptism with regeneration, the conclusion follows that there are millions of born-again, spirit-filled believers suffering torments in Hell. Certainly there are millions of baptized persons there. This conclusion is absurd, as all realize. This leads Cyprian, a pioneer of this viewpoint, to scale back the original claim: "That to be baptized and to receive the Eucharist is a little thing, unless a man improve in deeds and works." (Testimonies Against the Jews, Third Book, Proposition 26, The Treatises of Caecilius Cyprian, Charles Thornton). No Baptist would say baptism is "a little thing." Since identifying baptism with regeneration leads to absurd conclusions, the theory of baptismal regeneration is disconfirmed.

Preach the Gospel

Paul wrote the Corinthians, "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect." (1 Corinthians 1:17). This is not a 'difficult' verse of scripture...until one realizes that, to the Campbellites and 'Oneness' Pentecostals, the 'gospel' is ' baptized'! Which means Paul was saying, 'Christ did not send me to baptize, but to tell people to be baptized...'

Wind Blows

The new birth: 'regeneration' - is an act of God, not of man: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who 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). It's strange indeed that the very passage which describes the regenerative work of the Spirit as beyond man's ken...should be employed as proof-text proving that an undoubted act of man, baptism, is "synonymous" with regeneration: "Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.'" (John 3:7-8).

Martin Luther

'Oneness' Pentecostals and followers of Alexander Campbell quote Martin Luther's remarks on baptism, oddly enough since they consider Martin Luther to have been lost. This author repeats Peter's understanding that "...baptism [saves]..." (1 Peter 3:21). Martin Luther understands 'baptism saves' to mean that 'faith saves':

"They [the sacraments] are signs, or sacraments, or justification because they are sacraments of a justificatory faith, and not of works. The whole of their effectiveness lies in faith, and not in anything that is done. He who believes in them, fulfils them, even if nothing is done." (Martin Luther, Pagan Servitude of the Church, (2) 2.)
"Thus, baptism justifies nobody, and gives advantage to nobody; rather, faith in the word of the promise to which baptism was conjoined, is what justifies, and so completes, that which the baptism signified...Therefore it cannot be true that there resides in the sacraments a power capable of giving justification, or that they are the 'signs' of efficacious grace. All such things are said to the detriment of faith, and in ignorance of the divine promises." (Martin Luther, Pagan Servitude of the Church).
"This, then, is how through faith alone without works the soul is justified by the Word of God, sanctified, made true, peaceful, and free, filled with every blessing and truly made a child of God, as John 1:12 says: 'But to all who...believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God'. From what has been said it is easy to see from what source faith derives such great power and why a good work or all good works together cannot equal it...Just as the heated iron glows like fire because of the union of fire with it, so the Word imparts its qualities to the soul. It is clear, then, that a Christian has all that he needs in faith and needs no works to justify him; and if he has no need of works, he has no need of the law...This is that Christian liberty, our faith, which does not induce us to live in idleness or wickedness but makes the law and works unnecessary for any man's righteousness and salvation." (Martin Luther, Freedom of a Christian.)

There's something in baptism which is of works, not of faith; this is what Peter calls "the removal of the filth of the flesh." (1 Peter 3:21). That in baptism which is of works cannot save, because faith alone saves. So it's not the physical washing which saves, rather it's the faith of the recipient,- what Peter calls "the answer of a good conscience toward God," which saves, both in baptism and out of baptism.

When you say 'baptism saves,' if you're on the Bible bus along with Peter and Martin Luther, you're saying 'faith saves.' Baptism is a symbol, an instance of 'symbolic speech' if you will. What saves in this symbolic speech is the content, not the form, because the content flows from the heart, "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh." (Luke 6:45). Baptism is the outward sign of an inward faith.

John Calvin

This is another author quoted by 'Oneness' Pentecostals, oddly enough, because not only do they consider him lost, they hate him. Did John Calvin teach baptismal regeneration?:

"But baptism serves as our confession before men. Indeed, it is the mark by which we publicly profess that we wish to be reckoned God's people; by which we testify that we agree in worshipping the same which finally we openly affirm our faith...For this analogy or similitude is the surest rule of the sacraments: that we should see spiritual things in physical, as if set before our very eyes. For the Lord was pleased to represent them by such figures — not because such graces are bound and enclosed in the sacrament so as to be conferred upon us by its power, but only because the Lord by this token attests his will toward us, namely, that he is pleased to lavish all these things upon us." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter XV, 13-14).

There is a considerable amount of tail-chasing in this strategy. As a rule the evangelicals they are arguing with care about the Bible, not about uninspired authors who wrote five centuries ago; however, their teachers tell them people disagree with them out of tradition, and so two bands of disputants, neither of whom necessarily care that much what these authors say, undertake the dissection of subtle and delicate writers, who, whatever their views, were certainly not 'Oneness' Pentecostals.


There is also an antitype which now saves us - baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer ['eperotema'] of a good conscience toward God)..." (1 Peter 3:21).

Baptismal regenerationists translate 'eperotema' as 'plea,' not 'answer.' Understandably so, given that there's only one way to a "good conscience," through the blood: " much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:14). If the believer already has a "good conscience" from which to 'answer' God, the blood has already been applied.

eperôt-êma , Ion. epeir- , atos, to, question, Hdt. 6.67, Th.3.53,68, Epicur.Sent.Vat.71.

2. answer to inquiry put to higher authority: hence, sanction, kata to e. tôn Areopagitôn SIG 856.6 (ii A.D.), cf. 1008.4 (iii A.D.).

3. = Lat. stipulatio, PCair. Preis.1.16 (ii A.D.), Cod.Just. (pl.): hence prob., pledge, suneidêseôs agathês e. eis theon 1 Ep.Pet.3.21 . (Middle Liddell & Scott, Perseus Project).

New Lives for Old

Those who have seen God change a human life understand what it means to be born again. Go into a Bible-believing church and listen to the testimonies. You'll hear of lives transformed, turned around 180 degrees. In fact, these 'restarts' of a wasted life are so remarkable one might almost call them 'new births.' Just as the prodigal was dead, but is alive: "It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found." (Luke 15:32),- so modern-day prodigals begin anew and live again as new creatures in Christ. This transformation is so remarkable one could very well describe it as a new birth, a new life.

Is it possible that the 'new birth' means something quite different: baptism, say? Since the phrase 'new birth' fits so naturally with the transformation described above, it's not obvious why one would borrow the phrase to apply to something not naturally so described. Baptism, after all, is undergone by believers who have already repented and committed themselves to following the Lord Jesus Christ. They've answered God's interrogation from a "good conscience," and the answer is 'Yes, Lord.' What complete transformation is called for in a life which is already going God's way?

Is it credible that this radical turn-about in the sinner's life is not the new birth? According to baptismal regenerationists, the new birth doesn't occur until after the believer emerges from the waters of baptism. Since this 180-degree turn-about in the sinner's life is so remarkable, let's coin a phrase to describe it. 'New birth,' say the baptismal regenerationists, is already 'taken,' used to describe events subsequent to this radical transformation in a sinner's life. What available phrase might naturally fit the phenomenon we wish to describe, then? New life? Starting over? A complete turn-around? New creation? Funny...they all sound kind of similar to 'new birth,' don't they? If only that phrase weren't already 'taken,' we could use it very naturally to describe the phenomenon we wish to describe: the sinner's turning away from this world and the god of this world and turning toward God, His translation from one kingdom to another. It would 'fit' like a key to a lock! Hmmm...just what exactly is the 'evidence' that 'new birth' is supposed to mean 'baptism,' again? Why not allow this Bible phrase to describe the very real, observable transformation it most naturally 'fits'?

Heart of Flesh

The psalmist prays for a new heart: "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10). God promised that He would give His people a new heart, so that they could obey Him:

"And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God." (Ezekiel 11:19-20).

Notice that, in the order as set forth by God, the new heart comes first, then the walking in His statutes: "That they may walk in my statutes..." In 36:26 Ezekiel goes so far as to schedule the heart replacement therapy before repentance: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them...Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations." (Ezekiel 36:26-31).

Who are the people who obey God, according to the Bible? Are they regenerate, or unregenerate? According to the baptismal regenerationists, the people who obey God's commandment of baptism are unregenerate, because, according to this doctrine, it's only once believers emerge from the water that they're born again. That's what happens when you identify the new birth of John 3 with water baptism.

Does the Bible say that unregenerate people obey God? Doesn't it say, rather, that they are at enmity with God: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:7). Who are those in the flesh? Those who are not yet born again: "That which is born of the flesh if flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:6).

So doesn't it seem more natural to identify the new birth with that radical transformation in a sinner's orientation which turned him around from following the god of this world and toward following Jesus? It's this 180 degree turn-around which led him to the waters of baptism, because it is believers who are baptized, not unbelievers (Acts 8:37).

But if believers are already born again when they first ease a toe into the water, and can prove it by this very evidence: their willingness to follow God and obey His commands,- then how can water baptism be identified with the new birth (Alexander Campbell) or made its trigger (Roman Catholicism)?

Prayer Wheels

True religion is spiritual religion: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24). God has always looked at the heart, not at outward observance: "For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." (Psalm 51:16-17).

It is difficult to imagine the prophets of Israel insisting so strongly that by outward ceremony one cannot please God if it turns out in the New Testament that salvation is achieved outward ceremony.

"We hold that persons are not saved by baptism, for we think, first of all that it seems out of character with the spiritual religion which Christ came to teach, that he should make salvation depend upon mere ceremony. Judaism might possibly absorb the ceremony by way of type into her ordinances essential to eternal life; for it was religion of types and shadows. The false religions of the heathen might inculcate salvation by a physical process, but Jesus Christ claims for his faith that it is purely spiritual, and how could he connect regeneration with a peculiar application of aqueous fluid? I cannot see how it would be a spiritual gospel, but I can see how it would be mechanical, if I were sent forth to teach that the mere dropping of so many drops upon the brow, or even the plunging a person in water could save the soul. This seems to me to be the most mechanical religion now existing, and to be on a par with the praying windmills of Thibet, or the climbing up and down of Pilate's staircase to which Luther subjected himself in the days of his darkness." (C. H. Spurgeon, Sermon, Baptismal Regeneration).

Isn't it more likely that the function of this outward observance is the same function for which God has always designed His ordinances: to point to spiritual realities, not to substitute for them. Thus, baptism depicts the new birth, and those who seize hold, in faith, of the reality which baptism depicts, are born again. Why elevate the symbol above the substance?

Born Again

The Bible has a lot to say about those who are born again. It says that those who are born of God overcome the world: "For whatsoever ['pas,' all] is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:4). The Bible doesn't say that some of those who are born of God overcome the world; the Bible says that all of those who are born of God overcome the world. So if the conjecture that the new birth of John 3 is water baptism were correct, 1 John 5:4 would read, 'For whatsover is baptized overcometh the world...' Yet many are baptized who do not overcome the world, but rather are overcome by it. So this conjecture is flat out wrong.

The new birth is a spiritual reality, it's a work of God, not of man: "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). Baptism signifies this birth from above, it doesn't make it happen.

Born again believers are to be baptized. And born again believers are saved, because all who believe are saved: "As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed." (Romans 9:33). They believed before they were baptized, not as a result of baptism. So their baptism serves as seal and testimony to their salvation, not its cause.

John Gill

"Ver. 5. Jesus answered, verily, verily, I say unto thee,....
Explaining somewhat more clearly, what he before said:

"except a man be born of water and of the Spirit: these are, ..., "two words", which express the same thing, as Kimchi observes in many places in his commentaries, and signify the grace of the Spirit of God. The Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions read, "the Holy Spirit", and so Nonnus; and who doubtless is intended: by "water", is not meant material water, or baptismal water; for water baptism is never expressed by water only, without some additional word, which shows, that the ordinance of water baptism is intended: nor has baptism any regenerating influence in it; a person may be baptized, as Simon Magus was, and yet not born again; and it is so far from having any such virtue, that a person ought to be born again, before he is admitted to that ordinance: and though submission to it is necessary, in order to a person's entrance into a Gospel church state; yet it is not necessary to the kingdom of heaven, or to eternal life and salvation: such a mistaken sense of this text, seems to have given the first birth and rise to infant baptism in the African churches; who taking the words in this bad sense, concluded their children must be baptized, or they could not be saved; whereas by "water" is meant, in a figurative and metaphorical sense, the grace of God, as it is elsewhere; see Eze 36:25. Which is the moving cause of this new birth, and according to which God begets men again to, a lively hope, and that by which it is effected; for it is by the grace of God, and not by the power of man's free will, that any are regenerated, or made new creatures: and if Nicodemus was an officer in the temple, that took care to provide water at the feasts, as Dr. Lightfoot thinks, and as it should seem Nicodemon ben Gorion was, by the story before related of him; very pertinently does our Lord make mention of water, it being his own element: regeneration is sometimes ascribed to God the Father, as in 1Pe 1:3, and sometimes to the Son, 1Jo 2:29 and here to the Spirit, as in Tit 3:5, who convinces of sin, sanctifies, renews, works faith, and every other grace; begins and carries on the work of grace, unto perfection;..." (John Gill, Exposition of the Bible, John 3:5).

There are many reasons to quote an author; some of the old commentators express themselves with such clarity, one could not do better. In this case, I'm quoting John Gill because he's an old-time Baptist and some in the 'Church of Christ' will tell you, contrary to fact, that Baptists of his day shared Alexander Campbell's devotion to baptismal regeneration. What quoting a commentator does not do is 'prove' what a passage means. Chase after the new religious movements' misleading citations of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Gill et al, all of whom they claim for their own camp, and you'll hear in response...'Why is the Bible never enough for you?'

In fact, the Bible is the only authority in this field. The proper name for the argument, 'experts agree that 'x' is true, therefore 'x' is true,' is the argumentum ad verecundiam. It is properly classed as a fallacy:

"The first is to allege the opinions of men whose parts, learning, eminency, power, or some other cause has gained a name and settled their reputation in the common esteem with some kind of authority. When men are established in any kind of dignity, it is thought a breach of modesty for others to derogate any way from it, and question the authority of men who are in possession of it. This is apt to be censured as carrying with it too much of pride, when a man does not readily yield to the determination of approved authors which is wont to be received with respect and submission by others; and it is looked upon as insolence for a man to set up and adhere to his own opinion against the current stream of antiquity, or to put it in the balance against that of some learned doctor or otherwise approved writer. Whoever backs his tenets with such authorities thinks he ought thereby to carry the cause, and is ready to style it impudence in anyone who shall stand out against them. This I think may be called argumentum ad verecundiam." (John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Volume Two, Book IV, Chapter XVII, 19.)

Born of God

"Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God..." (1 John 5:1).

Who are those who are born again, according to the Bible? The baptized? No, "Whosoever believes..."

Regeneration, or rebirth, makes what was dead to be alive: "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;. . ." (Ephesians 2:1). It is following upon faith. Who has the competence to restore life? One one:

"See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand." (Deuteronomy 32:39).

The new birth is a divine act performed by the sole actor competent to the task:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. . ." (1 Peter 1:3).


The crudest and most egregious teaching of baptismal regeneration one can find is in the writings of Alexander Campbell:

"Hence it came to pass, that all the ancients (as fully proved in our first Extra on Remission) used the word regeneration as synonymous in signification with immersion. In addition to the numerous quotations made in our Essay on Remission, from the creeds and liturgies of Protestant churches, we shall add another from the Common Prayer of the Church of England, showing unequivocally that the learned Doctors of that church used the words regeneration and baptism as synonymous." (Alexander Campbell, Bath of Regeneration)

That "regeneration" and "immersion" cannot "synonymous" is readily shown by scriptures like, "Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God." (1 John 3:9). If the birth from above is "synonymous" with "immersion," then this means, '...he cannot sin, because he has been immersed!' Alexander Campbell proposes a naming scheme according to which 'Seven Lords a-Leaping' can expand, accordion-style, to encompass 'Seven Lords a-Leaping' all the way down to 'A Partridge in a Pear Tree'...then collapse back down to 'Seven Lords a-Leaping,' as needed. Better to propose plausible definitions for Bible terms in the first place.

Nature of Sin

It's been said that all works done before justification have the "nature of sin":

"All truly good works (to use the words of our Church) follow after justification; and they are therefore good and acceptable to God in Christ, because they spring out of a true and living faith. By a parity of reason, all works done before justification are not good, in the Christian sense, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; (though from some kind of faith in God they may spring;) yea, rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not (how strange soever it may appear to some) but they have the nature of sin." (John Wesley, Sermon 5, Justification by Faith).

Baptism is an absolute command of the Lord: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Matthew 28:19). It may seem paradoxical that only born again children of God can obey His commands, but that's what the Bible says: "If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him." (1 John 2:29).

The obedience God is looking for is not grudging, but from the heart. By God's way of accounting, he who obeys without enthusiasm is already a law-breaker: "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:28). Looking, not touching, this man was marked down as a law-breaker, because outward compliance is not what God seeks. The law is expressed as follows:

"And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (Romans 14:23).

As this principle relates to baptism, God commanded, and His children obey. Baptismal regenerationists invert that order: they say, children of the devil obey God's command, receiving their reward by becoming His children in the water. According to the Bible, they've got it backwards.

Mark 16

A very popular text with defenders of baptismal regeneration is Mark 16:16. The speaker is the risen Lord:

"He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:16).

This, they say, places baptism on the same plane with belief, as two co-ordinate elements necessary to salvation. Is this Biblical? Compare Mark 16:16 to Romans 10:9-11, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed." By the same analysis, this passage puts two conditions on salvation, 1.) belief and 2.) confession. But confession is the evidence of faith, or the expression of faith, not some additional thing on the same level as faith. What one confesses is, precisely, faith: 'I believe that Jesus is Lord.' The first item in the list is the content, the second item is the expression. When you say to someone, 'I love you,' it is a faulty analysis to say there are two things present here on the same plane, 1.) love and 2.) saying 'I love you.' The only reason anyone ever wants to hear 'I love you' is because it is evidence of love; if the speaker were known to be lying and love were thought not to be present but only the statement 'I love you,' no one would want to hear 'I love you'. Likewise with faith and baptism, baptism is not a second equally important thing added onto faith, but the evidence or signature of faith.

Jesus in this address to His disciples is talking about His church and pointing out evidence useful in discerning the church's presence, saying, "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." (Matthew 16:17-18). These are "signs" that "follow" believers, not additional conditions or requirements for salvation (though some people take them as such). Baptism also is a 'sign' that 'follows' believers; all believers are baptized, except in very unusual circumstances. The Kingdom of heaven, which had been hidden, now comes out into the light of day as the gospel is preached to "every creature." The stress on baptism in this passage fits in with the Lord's emphasis on evidence.

Advocates of baptismal regeneration advance Mark 16:16 to show that baptism cannot be a sign or symbol, or it would not be placed on the same level with belief, as it is, they say, in this passage, where it is vitally connected with salvation. Let's try this same argument with Romans 10:10. 'Confession' is vitally connected with salvation in that passage, but 'confession' is no more than a statement of faith. It is not helpful to say 'faith' plus 'statement of faith' = salvation, because the two terms are not co-ordinate. One is, in fact, a sign: significant speech, words which signify. One is evidence for the presence of the other. What independent value does it have? Most of its value hinges on that important thing of which it is 'a mere sign,' what it signifies; if you sever it, in thought, from that reality, so that we have 'confession' without 'faith,' its value is nil or negative.

Does the grammar really show, as is claimed, that Jesus places equal importance on belief and baptism? In Mark 2:15 we read of "Jesus and his disciples:" "And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples:. . ." (Mark 2:15). Does this mean that the disciples are on the same plane with Jesus, who is God incarnate, and are equally important? When you say 'a and b,' you need not be ascribing equal important to a and b. There are some cases where the speaker's 'a and b' are two things on the same plane, like 'ham and eggs,' but others where they are not, like 'the baby and the bath-water,' or 'God and man.'

Baptismal regenerations read Mark 16:16 so that 'belief' and 'baptism' are set forth as two conditions to salvation. If that were so, the contrary should be 'he that is not baptized or does not believe is damned,' i.e., instead of "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" the Lord should have said, 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not or is not baptized shall be damned.' Not even 'He that believeth not and is not baptized,' because the argument seeks to make both faith and baptism conditions for salvation. In the original, it is phrased precisely to disallow any such conclusion.

Thriceholy Radio

Infant Baptism

Those baptismal regenerationists with one foot in the Protestant camp, such as the 'Oneness' Pentecostals and followers of Alexander Campbell, dislike the term, which they redefine to mean 'infant baptism.' The phrase 'baptismal regeneration' does not properly mean 'infant baptism,' but rather this:

"This sacrament is called Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out: to baptize (Greek baptizein) means to 'plunge' or 'immerse'...This sacrament is also called 'the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,' for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of water and the Spirit without which no one 'can enter the kingdom of God.' (Jn 3:5)." (Catholic Catechism, 1214-1215).

Protestants agree that baptism "signifies" the new birth; the "actually brings about" part is in contention and is properly and conveniently described as 'baptismal regeneration.' Some who preach baptismal regeneration also practice infant baptism (Roman Catholics); some who preach baptismal regeneration only baptize professed believers ('Church of Christ'); some who deny baptismal regeneration practice infant baptism (Presbyterians), some who deny baptismal regeneration baptize only believers (Baptists). There is yet a relation between baptismal regeneration and infant baptism. If one accepts that Jesus meant to say, in John 3:5, that only those baptized may enter the kingdom of heaven, it is very difficult to close the door on infant baptism. What about babies who die in infancy?

Some of Alexander Campbell's followers deny it's grammatically possible for the 'tis' of John 3:5 to refer to children, but the word properly means 'a certain one, someone;' it is neither age nor gender specific:

"Jesus answered, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one ['tis'] is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John 3:5)

The word can refer to infants as well as anyone else:

"KOPH. Arise, rejoice in the night at the beginning of thy watch: pour out thy heart as water before the face of the Lord lift up thy hands to him for the life of thine infants, who faint for hunger at the top of all the streets. RHECHS. Behold, O Lord, and see for whom ['tini', dative of 'tis' LXX] thou has gathered thus. Shall the women eat the fruit of their womb? the cook has made a gathering: shall the infants sucking at the breasts be slain? wilt thou slay the priest and prophet in the sanctuary of the Lord? CHSEN. The child and old man have lain down in the street: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity: thou hast slain them with the sword and with famine; in the day of thy wrath thou hast mangled them, thou has not spared."
(Lamentations 2:19-21, Brenton Septuagint).

In this passage, 'tis' would seem to include infants sucking at the breast.

There is ample evidence in the Bible that God's pleasure rests upon little children:

"But Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matthew 18:14).

The Bible also teaches that all inherited a sinful nature from Adam. Do children never die? Where did death originate?:

"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:..." (Romans 5:12).

There is none without sin save only Jesus. The claim of man's natural innocency collides with a Bible that teaches,

"What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous? If God puts no trust in His saints, and the heavens are not pure in His sight, how much less man, who is abominable and filthy, who drinks iniquity like water!" (Job 15:14-16).
"Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." (Psalm 51:5).
"So He said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.'" (Matthew 19:17, Mark 10:18).
"Who can say, 'I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin'?" (Proverbs 20:9).

Baptism, Biblically, is for believers:

"Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, 'See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?' Then Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.' So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him." (Acts 8:36-38).

Incidentally, Roman Catholic doctrine acknowledges that baptism is for believers, though their practice falls short of this realization: "When we made our first profession of faith while receiving the holy Baptism that cleansed us, the forgiveness we received then was so full and complete that there remained in us absolutely nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offenses committed by our own will, nor was there left any penalty to suffer in order to expiate them..." (Catholic Catechism, 978). They allow this profession of faith to be made by proxy, by 'god-parents' nominated for the purpose...but who can speak for another in such a matter?

Biblically, baptism is for believers; Philip waited on a confession of faith from the eunuch before he would baptize him. Biblically, children are as much in need of regeneration in order to stand before a Holy God as anyone else. If, as baptismal regenerationists say, Jesus meant in John 3:5 to say that none unbaptized may enter the kingdom of heaven, because baptism not only signifies but effects regeneration, what is the result? A Catch-22, by which unspeaking children need regeneration...but cannot get it, because the only means afforded by God, baptism, is withheld from them.

Once one realizes that regeneration is a supernatural act of God, these difficulties dissolve away. God may regenerate whomever He pleases in whatever manner He pleases, whether this regeneration is celebrated by solemn performance of its symbol, baptism, or not. The difficulties created by the baptismal regenerationist reading of John 3:5 should serve as the reductio ad absurdum of this erroneous interpretation.

Renewed in the Image

The New Testament's promise of a new birth, a new creation, new life, is such a marvellous and overwhelming promises that it is genuinely surprising it has been minimalized down to an equation with baptism, although baptism is certainly a legitimate symbol of the new birth. Man was made in the image of God, upright: "Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions." (Ecclesiastes 7:29). But the image was marred and darkened by sin. The new birth restores and recreates us in His image; it is a new creation:

  • “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

  • (Ephesians 4:24).

Acts 2:38

“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).

Salvation Plan No-Faith
See Malta and Die What is the Question?
Go to Damascus Watch a Video
Messianic Expectations They Don't Get It
Into For
John the Baptist Savior Peter?
Fallacy of Composition Cornelius and the Gentiles

Return to answering 'Oneness' Pentecostalism...

Salvation Plan

Some say that Acts 2:38 intends to lay out a "Salvation Plan." This verse of scripture, in context, runs as follows:

"Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, 'what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let ever 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).

However it is often quoted in a slightly 'improved' version:

"Peter continued to exhort the multitude to receive the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thousands were convicted of their sin. They began to ask: 'What shall we do to be saved?' Peter answered: 'Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." ('No Other Name but Jesus,' by Pastor Gene Applegate, p. 52).

Some who advance the "Acts 2:38 Salvation Plan" make a great show of rejecting extra-Biblical phraseology. Yet oddly enough, their own phrase "Salvation Plan" is not found in the Bible.

The Bible does know of a plan and purpose in the mind of God before the ages: ...according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord..." (Ephesians 3:11), but the concept of a "Salvation Plan" as advanced strays from a Bible which ascribes salvation to One, God alone: "Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen." (Hosea 1:7). Those who propose this 'Salvation Plan' mean by it a step-by-step checklist which, once all mandatory items are checked off, achieves salvation. The Lord gave no encouragement to the 'checklist' paradigm; there are not many things, but one thing, needful: "And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42).

In truth, salvation is not a 'plan' but a person, Jehovah Savior, and those who meet Him ask for no checklist: "And he said to the woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luke 7:50).

No Faith

What the proponents of the "Acts 2:38 Salvation Plan" mean by a "Salvation Plan" is a list of elements each one of which is necessary for salvation, and which altogether completed suffice to accomplish salvation. This they take the two commands and one promise of Acts 2:38 to be: 1.) repent, 2.) be baptized, and 3.) receive the Holy Ghost.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that asking, 'What is the bare minimum that need be accomplished for salvation,' is the wrong question to ask. People do ask that question, nevertheless: "When we present the gospel, we try to answer one question: How do I keep from going to hell? After that question is answered, we stop asking questions about God." (Chan, Francis. Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God (p. 193). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.) It's a bad question, and only bad people ask it. People who ask a question like that darn well deserve to go to hell! Why not ask instead, what is the maximum I can do to please God? I hope we can all agree it's a bad question; but having asked the bad question, is 'Acts 2:38' a good answer, or a bad answer? Is Acts 2:38 a one verse Salvation Plan, as is claimed?

Already there's a problem: look at what's missing in Acts 2:38. Where's the faith? Believing the gospel and confessing Jesus as Lord are essential to salvation: "...that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9). But there's no mention of any such circumstances in Acts 2:38. Peter was aware that salvation is by faith, having quoted scripture moments before: "And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:21). But that he says it there is no consolation; he doesn't say it here, and it's this one verse which some hope to wrest into a No-Faith Salvation Plan.

Does the command to 'repent' include or imply 'faith' in Jesus as Lord? While 'repentance' might be implied by 'faith,' 'faith' is not implied in 'repentance.' John the Baptist called the people to repentance: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:2). But John wavered in his conviction that Jesus was the Lamb of God: "And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, 'Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?'" (Matthew 11:3). And the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John: "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matthew 11:11).

How can there be a 'No-Faith Salvation Plan'? Patently, Acts 2:38 was never designed to be a "Salvation Plan."

See Malta and Die Salvation Plan

What to say to those who do not classify Acts 2:38 as a "Salvation Plan:" are they ripping that verse out of the Bible? But cherry-picking a Bible verse at random and proclaiming it a "Salvation Plan" leads to some pretty odd "Salvation Plans," like the 'See Malta and Die Salvation Plan' of Acts 28:1: "And when they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta"?

...or the 'Skid-Row Salvation Plan' in 1 Timothy 5:23, "No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach."

To be sure, Peter's hearers were in need of salvation, as is all mankind. Who needed salvation more than the idolators of Athens? But what to make of the 'Unknown God Salvation Plan'?: "Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, 'Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious, for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD." (Acts 17:22-23)." What these verses have in common with Acts 2:38 is that none is described in the Bible as a "Salvation Plan," nor are they offered in response to the question, 'What must we do to be saved?'

What is the Question?

Listen to 'Oneness' Pentecostals, and how many times will you hear the question of Acts 2:37 'quoted' as, 'What shall we do to be saved?' That question actually is asked in the Bible, though some dislike the answer:

"And he brought them out and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' So they said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.'" (Acts 16:30-31).

Though that question is asked elsewhere, it is not asked here. What the congregation asks is, "What shall we do?"

Go to Damascus Salvation Plan

"I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’" (Acts 22:10).

Mosaic, Monreale

Here we have the 'Go to Damascus Salvation Plan.' But this seems to be a defective 'Salvation Plan,' because people are reported to have been saved who have never been to Damascus, so far as anyone knows: "And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham." (Luke 19:9). The truth is, one cannot assume that the answer to the question, "What am I to do," will constitute a Salvation Plan. While it is true that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that all sinners, Adam, Paul, Mary, and Stalin and Hitler, need a Savior, it does not therefore follow that all statements, including 'It's time for dinner,' must be intended as 'Salvation Plans.'

Watch a Video

The question, "what shall we do?" can have many answers. To believers who've given their hearts to the Lord at a crusade, the answer may be,

'Go downstairs and watch our video on living the Christian life;'
'Read this informative pamphlet;'
'Join a church in your area;'
'Stay for refreshments;'
'Sign up for Bible Study classes;'
'Be baptized.'

By the logic of the 'Acts 2:38 Salvation Plan,' these are the 'Video Salvation Plan,' the 'Pamphlet Salvation Plan,' the 'Ecclesiastical Salvation Plan,' the 'Refreshment Salvation Plan,' the 'Bible Study Plan,' and the 'Baptism Salvation Plan' respectively.

Messianic Expectations

It is objected: there is no way to know whether those asking the question were already believers, thus saved, at the time they asked this question. Indeed, that's so. For that matter there's no way of knowing if the questioners ever were saved, if they are the same individuals who "gladly received his word." The passage does not say. For that matter, there's no a priori reason to assume the questioners' expectations of the Messianic Age revolved around personal salvation.

Can it be assumed that Peter's questioners, in asking, "what shall we do?", really meant 'what shall we do to be saved?', and that Peter's response was thus constrained to be the Plan of Salvation? Neither can be taken for granted; the questioners need not have been thinking along those lines, nor is Peter's response constrained by their expectations. Peter's sermon theme is that Jesus is the expected Messiah, the Christ. What were the questioners' expectations of the Messianic era? If we learn this we can read their question in light of their expectations, not someone else's. To judge by the Bible, their expectations seem to have been more political and corporate than individual: "...but we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel." (Luke 24:21). One crucial point is that the people did not understand there would be two advents, rather they expected the Messiah to remain forever the first time: "The multitude therefore answered Him, 'We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'?" (John 12:34).

This is why the people perceived the crucifixion as a stumbling block, instead of the very means of fulfilling the Old Testament promise of a Messiah who would save His people: "...but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness..." (1 Corinthians 1:23). Peter's hearers, beginning to believe that they had rejected the Messiah, must have been panic-stricken. They must have wondered if the blessing would pass Israel by. Peter was in a position to reassure them that the crucifixion was, not human obduracy defeating God's purposes, but the very means God had planned from the foundation of the world of saving His people. This salvation was not national, but required a remnant to separate itself from the nation.

Had the congregation enjoyed the benefit of already having heard the full course of Peter's preaching, they would have understood the Messiah came to save their souls: "...obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:9). But is this the salvation for which they already looked to the Messiah? Or did they expect the Messiah to lead the nation into a glorious era of peace, unity and prosperity? How surprising it must have been when Peter even urged them to separate themselves from the nation: "Be saved from this perverse generation!" (Acts 2:40). Did they look to the Messiah to come and save their nation from the Romans, or to save their individual souls while leaving the Romans free to plant their standards amidst the ruins of Jerusalem? Is it prudent to hang crucial doctrine on the gravity-defying assumption that these questioners already 'got it' and thus meant, though they did not say, 'What shall we do to be saved'?

Peter taught that Messiah had come, was crucified, then had risen again and ascended into heaven awaiting His second coming: "...whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time." (Acts 3:21). But this is not what the people already expected. Thus one cannot read their question as if they already looked, as does His flock, to the Messiah for the personal salvation of their souls. To this day Jews do not look to the Messiah they expect as the Savior of their souls: "The Messiah in Judaism is not related to atonement, to saving mankind from sin, as is the Christ in Christianity." (Judaism and Christian Beginnings, Samuel Sandmel, p. 421). Once Peter's hearers had come to understand they had crucified the Messiah, they must have been terrified, not only for themselves, but for the whole world. They had to have wondered if they had ruined their nation's hopes. And since their nation was no ordinary nation but the apple of God's eyes, they had to have wondered if they had derailed God's plan for the ages. Their question may not have been, 'What about me,' but 'What about us'. One cannot assume selfishness on their part. Paul would have willingly sacrificed his personal salvation to save Israel: "For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh..." (Romans 9:3).

As Christian Bible students would later point out, the various prophecies of the Messiah and His times almost demand two advents, because one is hard pressed to imagine how Christ can die in obscurity: "That He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people..." (Isaiah 53:8), and simultaneously reign in glory. Nevertheless, that's not what the people were expecting. Some Old Testament prophecies of the Messianic age were fulfilled in the first advent, others await fulfillment. Peter reports Joel's prophecy of the pouring out of the Spirit in "those days" as already fulfilled as of the Day of Pentecost. So for the faithful remnant, the Spirit was already poured out; but some aspects of that same prophecy are held in abeyance until the second coming: "For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem..." (Joel 3:1). The pouring out of the Spirit was not for the nation as a whole, but for a called-out remnant: God's assembly was no longer the nation of Israel, but the church.

Peter's answer need not be the answer they expected. If they ask about a nation, they're told about a church, as God's plan trumps man's expectation. As ever, man proposes, God disposes. But the question the baptismal regenerationists hear: 'What shall we do to be saved?'-- is not found on the congregation's lips. Then where in the text is it? It is supplied by context, they tell us: the context of what Jews of the day expected the Messiah's reign to bring, namely personal salvation from sin. But this answer contradicts the Bible's record of what Jews of the day actually did expect from the Messiah's reign!

They Don't Get it

A constant theme in scripture is the obtuseness of those who heard the Lord:

"Then said Jesus unto them, Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me. You shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither you cannot come. Then said the Jews among themselves, Where will he go, that we shall not find him? will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles? What manner of saying is this that he said, You shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, there you cannot come?" (John 7:33-36).

Before constructing the 'Teach the Gentiles Salvation Plan' (hey, they asked a question, and recall we are free to substitute if we prefer a different question), let's pause to reflect that they didn't 'get' it. And time and time again they do not.

Se what a house of cards we are here erecting:

Baptismal Regenerationist: The audience asks Peter, 'What shall we do to be saved,' and he proposes in response the 'Acts 2:38 Salvation Plan.'

Protestant: But they don't ask, 'What shall we do to be saved,' they ask 'What shall we do.'

Baptismal Regenerationist: But they must have meant 'what shall we do to be saved,' because, Christ-killing sinners as they are, that is what they should have been asking.

Given the Bible's report that people often just do not 'get' it, how solid a procedure is it to substitute a question unasked, on grounds that this is what they would have asked, if they had 'gotten' it? In truth, God's concerns dovetail with their own. What keeps God's kingdom from coming, His reign from being manifest? If everyone lived as Jesus laid down in the Sermon on the Mount, how little would separate this world from paradise! But what stops us from turning the other cheek, from giving to all who ask? No external constraint, but the gravitational force of sin and selfishness. God's grace liberating His people from sin is the necessary precondition for the kind of kingdom they wanted.


"Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for ['eis,' literally into] the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38).

Making Acts 2:38 into a three-step "Salvation Plan" requires reading the "for" ['eis'] of the phrase "for the remission of sins" to mean 'for the purpose of', 'in order to obtain.'  Although John's baptism is also described as being "for the remission of sins", 'Oneness' Pentecostals consider only so-called 'Jesus name' baptism actually 'works' for this purpose: "John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3).

'Eis' literally means 'into.' It can mean 'for the purpose' of...or it can just as easily mean 'because of', 'unto', 'with reference to', etc. For example, "And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for ['eis'] the judgment of the great day..." (Jude 1:6), does not mean that the fallen angels are imprisoned in order to procure or bring about the final judgment, but rather on account of, and awaiting, the judgment.  Likewise, the Ninevites who repented "at" ['eis'] the preaching of Jonah did not repent in order to produce the preaching of Jonah, but rather because of, as a result of it: "The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at ['eis'] the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here." (Matthew 12:41). 'Eis' can imply a causal relation...but the causal nexus can work in either direction.  'Eis', with its variety of meanings, is a slender reed upon which to rest the doctrinal burden the 'Oneness' Pentecostals wish to place upon it.

You can't narrow down a broad word like 'eis' by noting the author could have chosen a more specific one. True enough, Luke could have said 'with reference to' had he wished - just as easily as he could have said 'in order to procure' had he wished to say that: "Now they do it to obtain ['hina labosin'] a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible." (1 Corinthians 9:25); "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that ['hina'] whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16). 'Hina' is how you say 'in order that' in Greek.

Suppose a police report states, 'the arsonist burned the building to the ground.' What kind of building? A 'building' might be a motel, a school, a home, a church, a supermarket. It accomplishes nothing to say, 'the author could have said 'school' had he meant 'school,' and 'supermarket' had he meant 'supermarket,' therefore he must have meant 'motel.'' For that matter, the author could have said 'motel' had he meant 'motel'! What you're left with after this spurious narrowing-down process is just what you started with, a broad word -- 'building' -- which could refer to a motel, a store, or a gas station.

Likewise with 'eis,' a very broad word which can mean all kinds of things. That's why Acts 2:38 falls to the ground as a proof-text for baptismal regeneration.

The word is often used to describe baptism: "Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into ['eis'] Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink." (1 Corinthians 10:1-4); "I indeed baptize you with water unto ['eis'] repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry." (Matthew 3:11). Since the idea in 1 Corinthians 10 seems to be a communion of those partaking in baptism, perhaps the literal meaning, "into," is illuminating.

'Oneness' Pentecostals add a new wrinkle to this old Roman Catholic proof-text for baptismal regeneration, understanding it to require the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. As for the essential role of the Holy Spirit in saving souls, that's Biblical: "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His." (Romans 8:9).  What is not Biblical is the arbitrary demand that all who receive the Spirit must speak in tongues: "Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit...Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" (1 Corinthians 12:3-30).


The English word 'for' is a comprehensive translation for the Greek 'eis,' because, like 'eis,' it can imply a cause and effect relationship, though it need not...a cause and effect relationship which can run in either direction. The same is true of the English word 'for'.  'Jesse James is wanted for robbery' does not mean that Jesse James is wanted in order to commit a robbery. 'I was given a ticket for speeding' does not mean that, before I was handed the ticket, I could not speed. 'The typist underwent surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome' does not mean the typist underwent surgery to induce carpal tunnel syndrome!

"for,...In the place of; instead of: indicating substitution or equivalence; corresponding to; accompanying (groan for groan); in the character of; as being (he took it for truth); toward; with the intention of going to; with a tendency to (an inclination for drink); conducive to; tending toward, in expectation of; with a view to obtain; in order to arrive at, get or procure (to wait for money, he writes for money); suitable or proper to; against; with a tendency to resist and destroy (a remedy for the headache); because of; on account of; by reason of (for want of time)...on the part of; in relation to (easy for you, but difficult for me); in proportion to (tall for his age)..." (Webster's International, 1965).

John the Baptist

John's baptism is also said to be "for the remission of sins": "John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for ['eis'] the remission of sins." (Mark 1:4); "And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for ['eis'] the remission of sins..." (Luke 3:3).

'Oneness' Pentecostals do not think that John's baptism 'worked,' they do not believe that it effected the remission of sins. But the only reason they do believe this about Christian baptism is because the same language is used to describe Christian baptism as is used to describe John's baptism.

Savior Peter?

'Oneness' Pentecostals tell how Peter used his "keys" to open the kingdom of heaven on the Day of Pentecost. One wonders, is Jesus the Savior...or Peter? Should we thank Peter for opening the gates of paradise, not Jesus? But when did Jesus ever need to wait upon Peter to save?: "And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham." (Luke 19:9). When did Jesus ever lose His power to save?

The aged Simeon rejoiced that he had seen the Lord's salvation when he saw baby Jesus: "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples..." (Luke 2:29-31). If the 'Oneness' Pentecostals are right, Simeon jumped the gun; he should have waited till he saw Peter.

Fallacy of Composition

Defenders of the "Acts 2:38 Salvation Plan" assume that, if one of the three elements of Acts 2:38 is necessary to salvation, then all must be. To arrive at this conclusion, we climb up the bridge of one fallacy: the fallacy of composition, then down another: the fallacy of division. The fallacy of composition runs like so: a man can pick up a spark-plug. A man can pick up a radiator hose. A man can pick up a car seat. Therefore, a man can pick up a car. Here's the fallacy: What is true of the parts -- that a man can pick them up -- is ascribed to the whole, though falsely, because a man cannot pick up a car. The fallacy of division is the inverse: what is properly stated of the whole is fallaciously ascribed to each one of the parts.

The three components of Acts 2:38 number two commands and one promise:

  1. Repent,
  2. Be baptized,
  3. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Repentance is both a life-long Christian obligation, and also the first U-turn from the darkness into His marvellous light: "I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3). Sinners must turn away from this wicked world and toward God, because only in Him is salvation found. (Parenthetically may I note, to those eager to find saving power in human initiative, that repentance itself is, Biblically, a gift: "And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth..." (2 Timothy 2:24-25).) So one point, the first, is essential to salvation.

Now, climbing our linked fallacy bridge, we reason, 'repentance is necessary to salvation, therefore the whole of which repentance forms a part: this verse, Acts 2:38,-- is a "Salvation Plan." Climbing back down, we reason: since Acts 2:38 is a "Salvation Plan," baptism, another one of its elements, must also essential to salvation: not a testimony to salvation already laid hold of by faith, but its precondition, just like repentance. Does it legitimately follow that, if one component of Acts 2:38 is requisite for salvation, all must be?

Let's try some examples: The nation is the whole of which its citizens comprise the parts; like they say, 'e pluribus unum.' Each citizen of the U.S.A. is either fat, thin, or in between. Therefore the nation is either fat, thin, or in between? True? No, that's the fallacy of composition. A nation is neither fat nor thin, except by metaphor. Another: The U.S.A. is a democracy. Therefore Mrs. Jones on the corner is a democracy. True? No, it's the fallacy of division. A nation can be a democracy, an individual cannot. Another: A nation has a birthday and an age stated in years, just like people do. Each and every citizen in the U.S.A. is aged less than 120 years. Therefore the nation is less than 120 years old. True? No, the fallacy of composition, falsely assuming that what is true of the parts is true of the whole. Another: General Motors is a wealthy corporation. Therefore, every employee of General Motors is wealthy. True? No, it's the fallacy of division.

Returning to the point, it is alleged that those who deny Acts 2:38 is a "Salvation Plan," in consequence also deny that any individual element of the verse, say 'repentance,' can be essential to salvation. What is the fallacy? First composition, transferring a characteristic belonging to one element to the whole, then division: ascribing the properties of the whole to each individual part.

Ever been asked, 'Do you believe in communism, free love, nudism and progressive taxation?' Answer: 'I believe in progressive taxation.' 'Oh, so you believe in communism and free love!' 'I didn't say that.' 'That's part of the package.' 'What package?'

The package in this case is the "Acts 2:38 Salvation Plan." But Acts 2:38 is nowhere stated in the Bible to be a "Salvation Plan." How might the whole of which repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit are parts be more modestly and defensibly described? It's a whole sentence. That's what Acts 2:38 is. That's the basis of the claim that, as 'repentance' goes, so must 'baptism.' 'Oneness' Pentecostals claim that, if one element is essential to salvation, then so must the others be,-- because, after all, they occur together in the same sentence.

Stated as a general law: if one element in a sentence is essential for salvation, then the sentence as a whole is a "Salvation Plan" and each element of the same sentence is also essential for salvation. Let's try it out for fun:

Here's the "Acts 21:20 Judaizing Salvation Plan": "And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which [1] believe; and they [2] are all zealous of the law:..." (Acts 21:20). The 'Acts 21:20 Salvation Plan' includes two elements: 1.) believe, and 2.) be zealous for the Mosaic law. Why is Acts 21:20 a "Salvation Plan"? Because, employing our rubric for manufacturing "Salvation Plans," we realize that one of the elements in this sentence: 1.) believe, is without controversy essential to salvation, therefore the other element in the sentence: 2.) be zealous of the law, must also be essential to salvation. After all, the two occur in the same sentence, don't they?-- just like in Acts 2:38!

Here's the Acts 17:4 "Hang out with Paul and Silas Salvation Plan": "And some of them [1] believed, and [2] consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few." (Acts 17:4). This sentence has two elements: 1.) believe, and 2.) hang out with Paul and Silas. So applying our "Acts 2:38 Salvation Plan" Manufacturing Method, we discover that hanging out with Paul and Silas is essential to salvation. After all, 'believing' is without controversy essential to salvation; without belief there is no salvation. By our general law, because one element of the sentence is essential to salvation, the sentence as a whole becomes a "Salvation Plan," thereafter every element of the sentence becomes essential to salvation.

How many "Salvation Plans" can we invent, flipping through the Bible, by means of our "Acts 2:38 Salvation Plan" Creation Rule? To return to reason: the fact that one element of a sentence may be essential to salvation does not transmute the sentence as a whole into a "Salvation Plan" nor make every element of the sentence essential to salvation.

We can rescue ourselves from the fallacy of the "Acts 2:38 Salvation Plan" Replication Method by employing this simple rule: if the Bible says it's a "Salvation Plan," then it's a salvation plan. If the Bible does not say it's a "Salvation Plan," nor offer it in response to the question 'What must we do to be saved,' then it need not be assumed to be a "Salvation Plan." What a relief! Who can hang out with Paul and Silas; they're dead!

Cornelius and the Gentiles

It is startling to reflect that Acts 2:38, the verse 'Oneness' Pentecostals and Roman Catholics make into a universal salvation plan, was spoken by a man who, at the time he spoke those words, did not think they applied to the Gentiles. Long after the Day of Pentecost, Peter was still unwilling to keep company with the Gentile Cornelius, until the Holy Spirit gave him a kick in the pants: "Then he said to them, 'You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.'" (Acts 10:28).

Return to 'Oneness' PentecostalismReturn to Roman CatholicismReturn to Alexander Campbell

Initial Evidence?

'Oneness' Pentecostals add a new twist to the identification of "born of water" (John 3:5) with water baptism they share with other baptismal regenerationists. They identify "...and the Spirit" (John 3:5) with speaking in tongues. They're left tallying one 'new birth' too many; after all, Jesus said, "Unless one is born again," not 'born again and again!' In consequence of this identification, they teach none can be saved without speaking in tongues, the 'initial evidence' of the Holy Spirit: "Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His." (Romans 8:9). However, the Bible does not support the assumption that all born again believers speak in tongues: "Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues?" (1 Corinthians 12:30).

There is a 'less' and a 'more' with the Holy Spirit: "And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me." (2 Kings 2:9). Having the Holy Spirit is not altogether an 'on/off' proposition, rather, one might have a 'double portion' (firstborn's share) versus a single portion. Whatever the portion, there's no believing Christian who is altogether devoid of the Spirit. The Bible says that all who confess Jesus as Lord speak by the Holy Ghost: "Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Jesus imparted the Spirit to His disciples prior to the Day of Pentecost: "And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:..." (John 20:22). Still, the promise that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all flesh was not yet fulfilled: "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit." (Joel 2:28-29). This abundant flood prophesied for the Messianic Age started to rain down on the Day of Pentecost. It is not that no one prior to that day had been filled with the Spirit; the difference is the difference between a gentle spring shower and Hurricane Hugo. In this case, confusing the 'less/more' of the anointing with the 'on/off' condition of belief/disbelief has led to error.

History does not record that these gifts ceased with the apostolic age. Tertullian advertised these gifts as forthcoming from his church "without any difficulty": "Let Marcion then exhibit, as gifts of his God, some prophets, such as have not spoken by human sense, but with the Spirit of God, such as have both predicted things to come, and have made manifest the secrets of the heart; let him produce a psalm, a vision, a prayer — only let it be by the Spirit, in an ecstasy, that is, in a rapture, whenever an interpretation of tongues has occurred to him; let him show to me also, that any woman of boastful tongue in his community has ever prophesied from amongst those specially holy sisters of his. Now all these signs (of spiritual gifts) are forthcoming from my side without any difficulty, and they agree, too, with the rules, and the dispensations, and the instructions of the Creator; therefore without doubt the Christ, and the Spirit, and the apostle, belong severally to my God. Here, then, is my frank avowal for any one who cares to require it." (Tertullian, Five Books Against Marcion, Book 5, Chapter 8).

God's grace saving acts includes justification, a judicial act of acquittal; regeneration, Christian re-birth or re-creation; and progressive sanctification, conformance to the image of Christ. As a help to this latter process, some have set forth 'holiness' standards. Is this a good approach?:

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