Carefully Studying The Baptism Texts Of The New Testament (Fourteen)

It is written:

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

The next text that we will examine in regards to the baptism texts of the New Testament deals with the conversion of the Apostle Paul (also known as Saul of Tarsus).

In Acts, we read of Saul as being one that was hostile to the Message of New Testament Christianity. He openly consented to the crowd that murdered Stephen, the first martyr of Christ Jesus (Acts 7:58; 8:1), continuing to attack the disciples of Jesus (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2). While on the road to Damascus, the Lord appeared to him, blinding him and revealing Himself to Saul (Acts 9:3-5). Trembling and astonished, Saul asked Jesus what He wanted him to do, and was told to go to Damascus where he would be told what he must do (Acts 9:6). There were witnesses who were with Saul and heard the voice, but who didn’t understand what it said (Acts 9:7; 22:9; cf. 26:14). They led Saul to Jerusalem, where the Bible tells us that Saul (as a believer who had repented of his sins) waited, praying and fasting for three days and nights (Acts 9:9-11).

In the meantime, the Lord told Ananias to go to Saul and pray over him while laying hands on him so he could receive his sight (Acts 9:10-12).

Saul tells us what Ananias told him after his three days of fasting and prayer as a believer who had repented of his sin:

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

With this context in mind, let’s notice some specifics about this passage.

First, notice the commands of the passage. The words “be baptized” and “wash away your sins” are in the imperative in the Greek New Testament, denoting commands. Moreover, the words “arise” and “calling on” are two aorist participles, denoting action that occurs simultaneously with the imperative verbs (more on this later).

As such, we see that this baptism is a command to Paul.

It is also interesting to notice that the phrase “why are you waiting” denotes urgency. It was a phrase used in the Jewish Apocrypha to denote acting immediately (cf. 4 Maccabees 6:23; 9:1). There was no delay-Saul needed to get baptized into Christ immediately!

Second, notice that the command to get baptized was a direct reference to water baptism. We see this for at least two reasons. The baptism here is a command to be obeyed. Only water baptism is a command that one can be obeyed (cf. Acts 10:47-48). Holy Spirit baptism was a promise to be received, not a command to be obeyed (cf. Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:4-5). Further, the word that is used here for “wash” is the same word that was used by a first Jewish historian, Josephus, to describe washing through the act of baptism (Josephus, Against Apion 2.24.203; 2.23.198; Antiquities Of The Jews 3.263; 3.11.4.; cf. Everett Ferguson, Baptism In The Early Church: History, Theology, And Liturgy In The First Five Centuries: History, Theology, And Liturgy In The First Five Centuries, 21258 Footnotes 149 and 150, (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

Third, notice that the text uses the middle voice. The middle voice suggests action that one prescribes for oneself, reminding us again that this baptism is personally chosen. This implicitly forbids infant baptism.

Fourth, consider what the passage teaches us about the connection between being baptized and “calling on the name of the Lord.”

From a grammatical point of view, the relationship between the aorist participles and the imperative could denote that Saul was already calling on the name of the Lord before his baptism. Some commentators have adopted this position, some going so far as claiming that this means Saul’s sins were forgiven before he was baptized.

“Thus, the consent (i.e., receiving the gospel), not the act of baptism, washes away sin. What is more, the aor. ptc. of means, ἐπικαλεσάμενος (nom. sg. masc. of aor. mid. ptc. of ἐπικαλέω; “by calling . . .” [NLT, MIT]), points to an action prior to the baptism/ washing.” (L. Scott Kellum, Acts (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament) by L. Scott Kellum, 13988 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN: B&H Academic)

“Based on Acts 22: 16, where “having called on His name” is an aorist participle, usually indicating action that precedes the action of the main verb (here there are two verbs, “get baptized” and “wash away”), I cannot say that the “calling on His name” and baptism are exactly equivalent. Even if the participle were present tense, indicating action that is happening at the time of the main verb, this would not necessarily be the case. One could be calling on His name WHILE being baptized. The fact that Romans 10: 9 says that confessing Jesus as Lord is something done orally (“ with your mouth”) shows, I think, that the calling on His name must be more than just the act of baptism as such.” (Jack Cottrell, One Baptism Into Christ (The Collected Writings of Jack Cottrell Book 5), 166 (Kindle Edition); Mason, Ohio; Christian Restoration Association)

However, the rules of Greek grammar also tell us that past aorist participles may occur simultaneously with the main verbs-in other words, it would be in the act of being baptized that Saul was calling on the name of the Lord.

“The expression τί μέλλεις can suggest “Why do you delay?” (cf. 4 Macc 6: 23; 9: 1).[ 976] This was essentially an exhortation to act immediately.[ 977] Baptisms were normally immediately after (or during) conversion (Acts 2: 38; 10: 47–48), and the question might resemble “What hinders baptism?” (8: 36; 10: 47). But already by classical Greek, the phrase had come to have the extended sense of simply urging action.[ 978] Luke elsewhere associates baptism with calling on Jesus’s name, as a concrete expression of that confession (2: 21, 38).[ 979] That Jesus’s name is invoked reflects the centrality and importance of Jesus that pervaded the early Jesus movement.[ 980] The association of baptism with washing is natural, given the frequency of ritual lustrations throughout the ancient world.[ 981] The association of baptism with deliverance from sin appears elsewhere (Rom 6: 3–6; Col 2: 12; 1 Pet 3: 21), though the same theological debates surround those texts as here. (Thus, in 1 Pet 3: 21, for example, baptism saves not by removing dirt but as a statement of Christian commitment.)[ 982] Likewise, other early Christian texts portray salvation as washing (1 Cor 6: 10; probably Eph 5: 26; cf. Titus 3: 5; 2 Pet 1: 9; continually, 1 John 1: 7, 9; variant in Rev 1: 5). Because baptism functioned as an act of conversion for Gentiles in Judaism,[ 983] the image is not surprising.[ 984] The Greek verb’s middle voice (βάπτισαι) for “be baptized” here (unique in the NT [except for Mark 7: 4, which is irrelevant]) probably invites Paul’s participation in baptism.[ 985] This information does not affect the point, however, since most baptism was probably self-administered (dunking oneself forward),[ 986] albeit (in its Christian form) under supervision. “Washing” constituted one of several images for conversion in early Christianity (see 1 Cor 6: 11, using the same term; Titus 3: 5; cf. Eph 5: 26; 2 Pet 2: 22). This image probably either reflected the experience of baptism or a common earlier biblical foundation that affected both.[ 987] Various earlier biblical texts refer to washing away sins; ritual texts include literal washings (Lev 14: 19, 31; 16: 30; Num 8: 21), but other texts probably apply the image figuratively (Josh 22: 17; Pss 19: 12 [18: 13–14 LXX]; 51: 2 [50: 4, 9 LXX]; Prov 20: 9; Jer 2: 22; 33: 8 [40: 8 LXX]; Ezek 36: 33; 37: 23; 43: 22).[ 988] A key passage in some early Jewish circles was Ezek 36: 25, in which God cleanses Israel with pure water, and its context, in which God gives them a new heart and puts his own Spirit in them.[ 989] Early Christians continued to use some of these passages figuratively; see 1 Clem. 8.4; 18.3, 7, which employ the same term as Luke and cite Ps 51: 2, 7 (50: 4, 9 LXX) and Isa 1: 16. The Gospel of John even applies Ezekiel’s water, which Ezekiel conjoins with the Spirit, directly to the cleansing Spirit (John 3: 5, probably a hendiadys in view of 7: 37–39).[ 990] Philo applies the same term, often taken from ritual washings, to spiritual purification.[ 991] Luke is familiar with figurative use of water imagery in Scripture (see Acts 2: 17–18). The extent to which Luke is applying a metaphor will continue to be debated, but it is clear that he associates baptism with conversion (see discussion at Acts 2: 38).[ 992]”. (Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary : Volume 3: 15:1-23:35, 28648-26878 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Academic)

“Ananias asks Paul to complete four actions. (1) Paul must “get up” (v. 10), i.e., take action in obedience to God’s directives. (2) He must “be immersed” in water (βάπτισαι), i.e., express repentance of sins, the need for cleansing, and confidence in God’s provision of forgiveness by immersion in water (see 1: 5; 2: 38). (3) He must “wash away” (ἀπόλουσαι) his sins; i.e., he is in need of God’s forgiveness, in particular of his rejection of Jesus and his actions as persecutor of Jesus’ followers. The metaphor of “washing away” connects with the reference to immersion, for in Jewish culture, immersion in water symbolized the cleansing from sins. (4) He must “call on” (ἐπικαλεσάμενος) the name of Jesus, i.e., invoke the name of Jesus as he is immersed in water, trusting that God now forgives sins through Jesus, his Righteous One (see on 2: 38; 3: 6, 16).” (Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Book 5), 1344 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)

Speaking of the Greek grammar, Collins quotes from Jackson (who refers to renowned scholar Lenski regarding the matter):

“Those who oppose the necessity of baptism also claim that calling on the name of the Lord is what washes away a person’s sins and not baptism. They believe that calling on the name of the Lord is done by a person asking Jesus to come into his heart, but this is not true as we will see. I will admit that it is grammatically possible for calling on the name of the Lord to precede both baptism and wash away your sins. However, it also grammatically possible that calling on the name of the Lord occurs at the same time as baptism and wash away your sins. So, which is the correct one? To find our answer, we must examine the whole counsel of God, but first, notice what Wayne Jackson says: In submitting to immersion, one is actually by that act “calling on” the Lord’s name. Lenski observes that the aorist participle, “calling on his name,” is “either simultaneous with that of the aorist imperatives [get yourself immersed and washed] or immediately precedes it, the difference being merely formal” (1934, 909) (The Acts of the Apostles 286). So, be baptized and wash away your sins are both aorist imperatives. Whenever the aorist tense is used together with the imperative mood, it indicates a great urgency for this command to be carried out. So the emphasis is on being baptized. As Wayne Jackson pointed out, calling on the name of the Lord is an aorist participle, and it is closely associated with the aorist imperatives be baptized and wash away your sins. So, it is grammatically possible that submitting yourself to baptism is to call on the name of the Lord. Now, let’s dig a little deeper and find out what else God’s Word says about calling on the name of the Lord. On the day of Pentecost, Peter quotes Joel and said: “And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved” (Acts 2: 21). First, when the people heard this saying, they did not get the idea that all they had to do was ask Jesus into their heart. Instead, they asked Peter what they must do (Acts 2: 37). Peter let them know that calling on the name of the Lord included repentance and baptism (Acts 2: 38). Once again, this shows calling on the name of the Lord is associated with being baptized, and it is more than just invoking His name or asking Him into the heart to be saved. Jesus made it clear that it takes more than a verbal plea such as, “Lord, Lord,” to be saved because a person must obey the Father’s will (Mt. 7: 21; Lk. 6: 46). So, calling on the name of the Lord includes obeying the gospel (Rom. 10: 13-16). Since calling on the name of the Lord, which includes baptism, is necessary to be saved, it proves that Saul was not saved at this point in his conversion because Ananias told him to call on the name of the Lord. Of course there are other verses that teach that baptism is necessary to be saved as well (Mk. 16: 16; 1 Pet. 3: 21). Finally, notice what Paul tells the Corinthians: And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6: 11). Paul used the same word washed as Ananias did in Acts 22: 16. He had just finished naming many sins that would keep a person from going to heaven. Then he lets the Corinthians know that they used to be guilty of those sins, but they had been washed, sanctified, and justified. In other words, their sins had been washed away, just like Saul’s would be washed away when he submitted himself to baptism. The word wash means to “wash off or away” (Thayer). When we think about washing off, we think about water and soap. Understanding this simple word should make us think about the water that we are baptized in and how Jesus’ blood is the cleansing soap that removes the stain of sin from our souls (Rev. 1: 5). There is nothing magical about the water; it is simply the place that God has designated where we will come in contact with the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood. We know this is true by our faith in the working of God (Col. 2: 12). It is difficult to understand how anyone could associate a verbal plea, or saying “the sinner’s prayer” with the word wash. Both 1 Corinthians 6: 11 and Acts 22: 16 are talking about the same thing, which means our sins are washed away when we are baptized in water in the name of Jesus for the remission of our sins. It is also interesting that this washing was done “in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” because it fits perfectly with The Great Commission (Mt. 28: 19) and with what Peter taught on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2: 38). We can see this idea of washing in several other passages as well (Heb. 10: 22; Eph. 5: 26; Titus 3: 5). Notice what Thayer says about our two verses: … 1 Cor. 6: 11 … Acts 22: 16. For the sinner is unclean, polluted as it were by the filth of his sins. Whoever obtains remission of sins has his sins put, so to speak, out of God’s sight is cleansed from them in the sight of God. Remission is (represented as) obtained by undergoing baptism; hence, those who have gone down into the baptismal bath (lavacrum, cf. Titus 3: 5; Eph. 5: 26) are said to have washed themselves, or to have washed away their sins, i. e. to have been cleansed from their sins. There should be no doubt for those who examine Saul’s conversion with an honest heart that baptism is essential for salvation and it is the point at which a person’s sins are washed away.” (Cougan Collins, IS BAPTISM NECESSARY FOR SALVATION?, 1325-1375 (Kindle Edition); Lone Grove, OK)

There is no doubt that the calling on the name of the Lord that Paul did occurred when he was baptized into Christ:

“DOES THE GREEK OF ACTS 22: 16 SUGGEST THAT “CALLING ON HIS NAME” SHOULD COME BEFORE BAPTISM? The Greek happens to suggest the same thing that the major English translations do, that the events of Acts 22: 16 all happen AT THE SAME TIME. Some would like to translate the Greek Aorist Participle “calling on His name” as coming before the main verb “be baptized” instead of simply describing it. So we’d end up with: “Arise and be baptized… having called on His name” (implying it was a separate prayer done first). Grammatically this is acceptable, but there’s still a problem. We skipped over the “wash away” part, which also happens to be a main verb. So even if this were a prayer which comes first, the “be baptized” and “wash away your sins” are still linked in the Greek. People who use this Aorist Participle argument against baptism are really viewing the passage like this: 1. Having gotten up (aorist participle) 2. Be baptized (imperative) 3. Having washed away your sins (aorist participle) 4. Having called on His name (aorist participle) But this is not accurate. It is really written this way: 1. Having gotten up (aorist participle) 2. Be baptized (imperative) 3. Wash away your sins (IMPERATIVE) 4. Having called on His name (aorist participle) [5] This means that no matter when the “calling on His name” part happens, the “baptized” and “wash away… sins” are linked together. They are inseparable regardless of any Greek translation games we play. Knowing this, let’s look at real argument being made by baptism opponents, and lets translate it the way it should be to fit with the Greek (putting the participle before the main verb): “And now what are you waiting for? Having gotten up and having called on His name, be baptized and wash away your sins!” Suddenly it doesn’t help the argument against baptism. Baptism does NOT come after the sin washing. The major English translations seem to have it right. To translate Acts 22: 16 differently would miss the urgent command that is implied in the verse. So it’s not “having gotten up… be baptized & wash away your sins… having called.” It’s “get up… be baptized & wash away your sins… calling…” all simultaneously [6]. Matthew 28: 19 uses the same kind of Aorist Participle. But we don’t translate that “Therefore HAVING GONE make disciples.” The translations accurately say “Therefore, GO and make disciples.”” (Seth Bourne, The Baptism Debate: Answering Today’s Questions About Baptism, 606-628 (Kindle Edition))

It also needs to be remembered that Saul obviously had been praying for three days before Ananias arrived (Acts 9:9, 11) and yet was still in his sins until he was baptized into Christ!

This parallels with what we read in Acts 2:21 (“and it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”). Just as the believers on Pentecost had to repent and be baptized into Christ to call on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:38, 41), so a believer who has repented needs to be baptized in order to call on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16).

So, to summarize what Acts 22:16 teaches us about baptism:

First, there are two commands in the passage to Paul (who had been praying and fasting for three days and nights as a believer who had repented of his sins-Acts 9:1-11): he was commanded to be baptized and to wash away his sins. The Greek of the passage demonstrates that the washing away of sin occurred at the same as the baptizing.

Second, the command to be baptized was a direct reference to water baptism.

Third, the command is in the middle voice, which implicitly forbids the practice of infant baptism.

Fourth, there is a direct connection between being baptized and calling on the name of the Lord. It is in the act of baptism that we call upon the Lord to save us as He has promised to do.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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