WAS CORNELIUS SAVED BEFORE WATER BAPTISM?
-by A. Ralph Johnson
The Bible plainly teaches that we are baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27; 1Cor. 12:13). In Ac. 10:44-48 Cornelius was baptized in the Holy Spirit, immediately followed by baptism in water. It is sometimes argued that this shows that one is saved before water baptism.
The first thing we should note is that this is a very special situation. Gentiles were not accepted. God had to give Peter a very strong revelation to get him to go speak to this Gentile soldier. When he got back to Jerusalem he had to account for baptizing him. The Jews needed powerful evidence. Thus, God sent the Holy Spirit upon him as evidence of his acceptability to convince the Jews.
Perhaps the simplest answer to the problem is that baptism, whether in the Holy Spirit or in water, is the point at which one comes into Christ. Christ baptized in the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8). We are baptized in water (Mat. 28:19). Both baptisms may result in the same results. However, Eph 4:5 says there is only one baptism. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is only specified to have taken place twice, Acts 2 on Pentecost to open the church to the Jews, and Acts 10 to open it to the Gentiles. The fact that Peter refers back years before, to the baptism of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 11:15) suggests it was not something taking place for everyone. Today we see no coming of the Holy Spirit with tongues like as of fire, sound as of a mighty wind or speaking all languages. Instead of Christ doing the baptizing, we obey his command to baptize people into his name.
The problem is, if one is not in Christ until baptized then how could the Household of Cornelius have received baptism of the Holy Spirit before being baptized in water? Remission was to be received through His name (Acts 10:43) and it was in water that they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:48. cf. Matt 28:18-20; Acts 2:38; 8:16; 19:5; 22:16.)
In Acts 11, Peter explained to the Jews at Jerusalem how God had signified both by vision and by baptism of the Holy Spirit that Gentiles should also be accepted (11:17; 15:8). Cornelius had been told that Peter would tell him words whereby he would be saved (11:14). However, the Holy Spirit fell upon them as Peter began to speak (11:15), indicating that his words were not completed. Thus, by viewing the words he was saying when he was interrupted and considering them with the words that he spoke immediately after the event, it may be possible to know just how these words could provide salvation.
In Acts 10:34-42 Peter tells Cornelius of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and that He will judge the living and the dead. In verse 43 he begins to tell what they must do to be saved (cf. Ac. 2:37; 22:10). He declares that Through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. Notice that immediately after the interruption of this message Peter turns to the need for water and commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord (10:47-48).
The requirement for baptism to be in the name ties verse 48 directly to verse 43 which says that remission of sins is through His name. We may therefore reasonably conclude that Peter is here speaking the words whereby they were saved.
We find this same relationship between baptism and the name of Christ in many other passages. In the Great Commission Jesus told them to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into (eis) the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The companion account, in Mark 16:16, adds, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved... (Mat. 28:19).
On the day of Pentecost, in answer to their stricken cry of what shall we do? Peter commands them to Repent and be baptized, every one of you in (epi) the name of Jesus Christ unto (eis) the remission of your sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto Him. And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, save yourselves...They then that received the word were baptized and there were added unto them three thousand souls (2:37-41).
In Acts 22:16, Saul (Paul) had seen Jesus (v.8); asked, What shall I do, Lord? (v.10); had gone to Damascus, where he was to be told what he must do (22:10; 9:6); was three days without sight, neither eating nor drinking (9:9); prayed (9:11); had seen a vision of Ananias coming and laying hands on him that he might receive his sight (9:12); was healed (22:13); yet, after all of this he still had his sins. Ananias said to him, Why do you wait? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name (cf. Rom. 10:13-17).
In each of the above cases we find three things in common with the conversion of Cornelius: 1. Calling on the name of Christ; 2. Forgiveness of sins; and 3. Salvation,--all accomplished in obedience to the command to be baptized.
Water baptism is indicated by examining the cases.
In Mt. 28:19 the baptism was to be by those sent out.
In Ac. 2:38-41 it was something that they were exhorted to do.
In Ac. 22:16 the necessity to arise would only fit water baptism. This was the same baptism as that of the Eunuch (8:36-39) and the Jailer (16:33). This is the one baptism (Eph. 4:5) into one body (Eph 4:4 cf. 1:22-23), that was cleansed by the washing of water through the word (Eph 5:26). It was in obedience from the heart (Rom 6:17) to the words (Acts 11:14; Rom 10:17) spoken through the Holy Spirit that they were all baptized into one body (1Cor 12:13). Water baptism continued after Holy Spirit baptism had ceased with the call of the Gentiles. This is the same one in which the heart is sprinkled from an evil conscience (with blood --Heb. 10:19; 9:13,14) and the body is washed with pure water. It is the one in which water, Spirit and blood agree in one (1Jn. 5:6,8), and in which one is born of God (1Jn. 5:4; Jn. 3:5; Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:13).
In Corneliuss baptism the emphasis is on faith in His name. Without the appeal to God for a clear conscience through the resurrection of Christ, it is invalid (1Pe. 3:21) and must be performed again (Ac. 19:1-5). This is not salvation by faith only (James 2:14, 19, 24) which is dead, being alone (2:17, 20, 26). Obedience from the heart (Rom. 6:17) works with faith to give it life (James 2:22; Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12, 13). (Cf. Heb. 5:9; 1Pe 1:22; Ac. 5:32; Lk. 6:46; Mat. 7:21-26; Jn. 15:14; James 1:22-25). It is the work of God within us through his power.
The twelve disciples at Ephesus who had been baptized with John the Baptists baptism unto repentance were rebaptized into (eis) the name of the Lord Jesus (Ac. 19:1-6). The Samaritans (Ac. 8:16) likewise had not yet received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them, but were already baptized into (eis) the name of the Lord Jesus.
In Gal. 3:26-27, Paul makes the whole matter perfectly clear when he explained that the process of becoming children of God by faith in Christ Jesus is accomplished when we put on Christ in being baptized into Christ. If any man is in Christ he is a new creature (2Co. 5:17) and is therefore under no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).
It was quite possible that the Holy Spirit could act upon one who had not yet been cleansed by the blood of Christ (Lk. 2:25; 1Sam. 10:10; 19:20; John 11:49-52), and may have done so in the case of Cornelius in order to show that the Gentiles were acceptable to God (Ac. 11:17).
There is no statement to the effect that Cornelius had his sins forgiven before he was baptized in water. He had to obey the gospel (Rom. 6:17; 10:16; 2Thes 1:8; 1Pe. 4:17) just like everyone else. He had to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins, calling on the name of the Lord, (Ac. 22:16) just like Paul. He had to Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins in order to be saved, just like those on Pentecost (Ac. 2:38,40; 11:14,18).
In baptism we are baptized into [eis] Christ. We are Baptized into His death (Rom. 6:3-4) in which we are reconciled to God by contact with his blood and so justified and saved from Gods wrath (5:,10). Our old man is crucified with him that the body of sin might be done away (6:6). Having died with Christ in baptism (6:3,4) we are justified from sin (6:7,18; Col. 2:13) through obedience from the heart to that form of teaching which was delivered (Rom. 6:17). Just like the Israelites who began their escape from Egypt through the leading of God before being saved the day they were baptized in the cloud and in the sea (1Cor. 10:1, 2; Ex. 14:13, 15, 28-30) so Gods Spirit may have come upon Cornelius before actually being saved in water baptism.
Acts ten does not teach salvation without baptism. There are two baptisms, one in the Holy Spirit by the power of Jesus. The second took place in water immediately following by the command of Peter. Baptism in the Holy Spirit removing sin did not void the responsibility to be baptized in water.
For those who insist on twisting this into a precedent for salvation apart from water baptism the simple answer is for them to do what they claim. Let them produce Holy Spirit baptism as found on Pentecost and at the household of Corneliusa sound of a rushing wind that fills the whole house, tongues like as of flame upon their heads, and speaking in other languages. The Bibles clearly commands us to be baptized INTO Christ. We cant baptize people in the Holy Spirit but we can baptize them in water.