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.
and let every [each, third person singular] one of you [plural]
Peter called for each person to repent. It was not enough that the Jews think of themselves corporately as a group, as part of the nation Israel. Each person had to decide for himself. The Jews thought in terms of their national identity; they viewed themselves corporately. Now they were to make the decision about baptism an individual choice.
be baptized [third person singular]
“Be baptized” is a parenthesis because it does not grammatically connect to “remission of sins” in the original language. Peter spoke to the general crowd when he gave the challenge to “repent” (second person plural). Yet, Peter commanded to be “baptized” to each individual person (third person singular).
The word “baptized” is not translated in most versions; it is only transliterated; that is, they put the Greek word into English without translating its figurative meaning, which, if translated, carries the idea to identify. First Corinthians 10:2 uses “baptized” in the sense of people identifying themselves with the purposes of Moses. Baptism in water was a common practice among Christians in the first century. If a Jew were to be baptized during the first century, he would be viewed as changing his identity from the community of Jews to becoming a Christian.
To be baptized is to identify oneself with Christianity.
Acts 2:38 is the main text used by those who believe in baptismal regeneration. It is their strongest text. This verse is one of the most important proof texts for those who believe in baptismal regeneration; that is, one must be baptized in water before they can receive eternal salvation. However, the belief that one must be baptized in water runs counter to passages that assert we trust Christ alone for salvation (Acts 10:43; 13:38; 15:31; 26:18; Lu 24:47; Jn 3:16, 36; $o 4:1-17; 11:6; Ga 3:8-9; Eph 2:8-9).
It is important to note that this verse is primarily in a historical and not a didactic text. History is descriptive, the reference is to a historical situation at a particular time. However, didactic literature is prescriptive or definitive. For example, Paul wrote his epistles to teach doctrine. Doctrine is where we must build our theology.
Much false doctrine arises from the book of Acts because of misunderstanding the book as narrative and not doctrine. This misinterpretation is an issue of understanding the nature of the literature of Acts. Acts is a historical account, not a doctrine dissertation, which sets forth doctrine in a form arrangement. Epistles are didactic, whereas Acts is descriptive.
With this said, there are didactic statements in Acts, but the argument of the book is not primarily doctrinal. In the epistles, the argument of an entire book, such as in John or Romans overwhelmingly doctrine. Denial of Acts as prescriptive does not affirm that Acts does not teach any doctrine, but only that doctrine is not its primary purpose. These principles are what we call normative interpretations of Scripture.
Even the Gospel of John argues a didactic point. John argues throughout his Gospel how a person becomes a Christian. He mentions “believe” in its various forms 99 times without mentioning baptism one time (including a vague reference in John 3). He explicitly states his purpose for writing in John 20:31 to show that belief is the only condition for salvation.
The fundamental problem with many who do not believe in faith alone for salvation is that they do not take the argument of a book such as the book of Galatians that explains in didactic form how someone comes to Christ. Clearly, salvation is by faith alone, by grace alone, and by Christ alone. To inject anything else is to distort the Gospel of grace – “where sin abounded, grace did super-abound.”