Water Baptism, Acts 22:16

This article is part of a series responding to an article titled "THE BIBLE VERSUS THE CHURCH OF CHRIST" by James L. Melton. The original article is no longer available at av1611.org as it once was. Reading a response without access to the original writing can be frustrating. Having the context of quotes is important. You can download Mr. Melton's article here.

by William J. Stewart

Acts 22:16 reads, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”

After quoting the text, Mr. Melton immediately states: “Revelation 1:5 plainly tells us that it is the BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST that washes away sin, not water baptism, so there is obviously more to Acts 22:16 than the Church of Christ teaches.”

To be clear, Revelation 1:5 says the Lord’s blood washes away sin; it says nothing about baptism, either positive or negative. Melton’s inference is that Acts 22:16 is somehow unclear or ambiguous. It is not. Acts 22:16 is as plain and easy to understand as Revelation 1:5. The problem is, Melton believes one, but does not believe the other.

So, what does he do? He maligns Ananias, the speaker in Acts 22. Using Acts 22:12, Melton identifies Ananias as “…a Jewish proselyte who still followed the Old Testament law…” who “…did not yet have full understanding of Salvation by Grace.” He continues, “Ananias associated water baptism with the Old Testament laws of PURIFICATION … He didn’t have a clear understanding of the Blood Atonement of Christ, which washes away all sin.”

Consider a few things:

  1. Acts 22 does not, nor does any other text identify Ananias as a Jewish proselyte. Melton just made that up. Acts 9:10 identifies Ananias as “…a certain disciple at Damascus…”
  2. The Lord spoke to and commissioned Ananias to speak to Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:10-18). Did Jesus choose to send someone who would fail to teach the truth of the gospel?
  3. Melton’s accusation against Ananias is the same as his accusation against Peter in Acts 2:38, he “…did not yet have a full understanding of Salvation by Grace.” And yet, Peter, many years after Acts 2:38 was still teaching the necessity of water baptism (1 Peter 3:21).
  4. When falsehood is found among God’s people in the New Testament, it is corrected. In Acts 8, Simon’s attempt to buy the ability to impart the gifts of the Spirit was rebuked. In Acts 15, the Judaizing teachers who sought to bind the Law on the Gentiles were confronted and refuted. In Acts 18, Apollos who taught the baptism of John was pulled aside and instructed. In Acts 19, those who had received John’s baptism (through the false teaching of Apollos) were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. In Galatians 2, Peter’s withdrawal from the Gentile brethren when Jewish brethren came to Antioch was withstood and rebuked. If Peter was teaching error in Acts 2:38 and Ananias was teaching error in Acts 22:16, as Melton suggests, why was their falsehood not corrected?
  5. There is nothing in Acts 22:16 indicating Ananias associated water baptism with the Old Testament laws of purification. That is Mr. Melton’s attempt at explaining away the text.

Let’s come back to Acts 22:16 and notice what Ananias said to Saul of Tarsus.

And now why are you waiting? There is a sense of urgency which is consistently found when folks in the New Testament were taught about baptism. In Acts 2, three thousand people responded and were baptized that day (v 41). In Acts 8, as he taught Jesus to the Eunuch (v 35), Philip mentioned baptism; and the Eunuch, upon seeing water, sought to be baptized right away (v 36-39). In Acts 9, the primary account of Saul’s conversion, the soon to be apostle “…received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized” (v 18). In Acts 10, Cornelius and those who were gathered with him were commanded to be baptized (v 47-48; cf. 6). In Acts 16, Lydia’s heart was opened to heed the things spoken by Paul, which resulted in her and her household being baptized (v 14-15). Also in Acts 16, having heard about Jesus Christ, the Philippian jailer and his family were baptized immediately (v 33). This sense of urgency we see in the New Testament is a stark contrast to the put it off attitude that is prevalent in so many churches today. Why the difference? The people in the first century were being taught that baptism was essential for salvation, therefore they responded immediately. Today, people are being taught a different gospel (Galatians 1:6-8).

Arise and be baptized. He wasn’t told to accept Jesus into his heart. He wasn’t told to say a sinner’s prayer. He was told to arise and be baptized. Will we listen to what the Bible says or to manmade doctrines?

And wash away your sins. What was the purpose of baptism? He was told being baptized would wash away his sins. Melton calls that baptism regeneration and rejects it, despite the fact that it is written in his Bible! Instead of outright rejecting what is recorded in Scripture, it might be better to look at the big picture; to see how the blood of Christ and baptism work together. We’ll do so below.

Calling on the name of the Lord. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Calling on the name of the Lord is more than a vocal cry, prayer or appeal. Ananias reveals that it involves obedience to God’s word. In particular, he applies it to the command to be baptized.

Mr. Melton brought up Revelation 1:5, which says Jesus “…washed us from our sins in His own blood…” Melton sought to set this text against Acts 22:16, and to discount the words of Ananias in the process. What a dishonest way to use the Bible! Notice, the apostle John didn’t say how our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ, just that they are. If we seek to interpret Scripture with Scripture, we can easily come to an understanding of how this takes place. And to Mr. Melton’s displeasure, Acts 22:16 is part of the solution.

Revelation 1:5 and Acts 22:16 are complimentary texts, just like Matthew 26:28 and Acts 2:38. We have noted that Jesus’ blood was shed for (unto) the remission of sins, and we are also baptized for (unto) the remission of sins. Matthew 26 reveals what the Lord did for us, Acts 2 reveals how we gain access to it. In the same way, Revelation 1:5 reveals what has been done for us, and Acts 22:16 reveals how we gain access to it.

Hebrews 10:19-22 speaks about the blood of Christ, by which we have “boldness to enter the Holiest.” But how has this happened? The writer says we had “…our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience…” In Hebrews 9, the author spoke of the sprinkling of blood upon the altar, the furnishings, the book and the people to establish the Old Covenant. We need the blood of Christ sprinkled upon us. But we cannot have His blood literally sprinkled upon us, it is a figure. So, how does it take place? The writer continues, “…and our bodies washed with pure water.” What else could this be but a reference to baptism? Melton may like us to think the Hebrew author was referring to an Old Testament purification, but the context simply does not allow such. We are given entrance to the Holiest by the blood of Jesus when His blood is applied to our hearts, cleansing us of evil; and that takes place when we are baptized.

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