Part of a series on Baptism in Depth. Get ready, y’all! I have a burst of inspiration, and thoughts coming out my ears — both to finish my thesis and to share on Baptism.
The Acts of the Apostles, the continuation of St. Luke’s Gospel narrative recounting the earliest history of the Christian Church, is the clearest record we have of the faith and practice of the Apostles. With that in mind, we look to it as a clear window into the Apostles’ understanding of Baptism.
The most important observation we can make about the Apostolic Church and Baptism is that in every single case of Christian conversion in the Book of Acts, Baptism immediately followed the believer’s having faith in Christ — as if believing and being baptized were a part of the very same thought and action. In this we hear an echo of Jesus’s words: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). For the earliest Christians, believing and being baptized were inextricably connected.
We see, from the very first apostolic proclamation of the Gospel, that Baptism was connected both to believing in Christ and to repenting of one’s sins. To the people’s question of what they should do, St. Peter answers, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The purpose Peter names of being baptized, we should note, is for the forgiveness of your sins; and the outcome is to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
Numerous other cases connect faith and Baptism necessarily: In St. Philip the Deacon’s preaching to the Samaritans, we see that “when they believed … they were baptized” (Acts 8:12). When the Ethiopian eunuch believed, he exclaimed immediately, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). In St. Paul’s ministry in Corinth, we find that “many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).
In fact, the act of Baptism was so closely connected to the act of believing that baptism implied belief: In a number of cases, Scripture does not specify explicitly that the converts believed, only that they were baptized. When Paul preached to Lydia, the text tells that “the Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul. And … she was baptized” (Acts 16:14–15). Likewise with the Philippian jailer, we read that “[Paul and Silas] spoke the word of the Lord to him and all that were in his house,” urging him to believe, and “he was baptized at once, with all his family” (Acts 16:32–33).
At the very least, we can say that Baptism was a necessary part of salvation in Acts: for no one became a Christian without having been baptized. Baptism was the next step to having faith, the necessary response, no doubt a central part to apostolic preaching, and the completion of the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” As I will show next, in a closer examination of Baptism in the thought of St. Paul, not only did Baptism imply having faith, but having faith came to imply Baptism.