4 Reasons Acts 2:38–39 Does Not Imply Infant Baptism


Fifty days after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit and led by Peter, ignited a gospel movement that spread from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the world. Acts 2 records the riveting historical account of timid followers of Jesus leaving their hiding places and boldly preaching to crowds gathered from across the Roman Empire.

A natural reading of the text would uncover no references to the later practice of infant baptism. Yet, proponents of infant baptism cling to Acts 2:38–39 as biblical warrant for this tradition.

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. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

However, though this passage mentions both children and baptism, Acts 2:38–39 leaves no room for infant baptism. Here are four reasons why.

1. Those Baptized First Repented

Acts 2:38 gives a chronological sequence. First, repent. Second, be baptized. Third, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Repentance is active. Be Baptized is passive. The active comes before the passive. Because infants cannot of their own volition repent, infants should not be moved on to the second step of baptism. Therefore, Acts 2:38–39 does not imply infant baptism.

2. Those Baptized First Gladly Received His Word

Acts 2:41 describes those who were baptized as those who first “gladly received his word.” An infant cannot gladly receive anyone’s word because they do not understand anyone’s words. Therefore, Acts 2:38–39 does not imply infant baptism.

3. Those Baptized Are Those Who Believed

Acts 2:44 further describes the same people who were baptized as “all who believed.” Infants cannot believe in Jesus Christ. Therefore, Acts 2:38–39 does not imply infant baptism.

4. Receiving the Promise Requires a Response to God’s Call

The promise in Acts 2:39 is central to the argument for the implication of infant baptism because of the mention of children. What is this promise? The gift of the Holy Spirit. Who receives this promise? Acts 2:38 already gave the prerequisites: repentance and baptism.1

Now, Acts 2:39 gives the scope of who can participate. First, the Jews in the crowd have this opportunity. Second, their descendants too can repent and be baptized. Possibly Peter included their children because the Jews of Jerusalem had called for Jesus’ blood to be on them and their children (Matthew 27:25). In Christ, God would even wipe away that stain. Third, God extends the offer of the promise to “all who are afar off.” This would include diaspora Jews in the audience, and though Peter would not have realized the extent of his own words until Acts 10, eventually to the Gentiles. Here we see echoes of Paul’s words in Romans 1:16: “for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

The key element, whether for Jews in the crowd, their descendants, or those afar off, is that the promise of the Holy Spirit comes to “as many as the Lord our God will call.” Through the preaching of Peter at Pentecost and the subsequent spread of the gospel, God calls, but the hearer must respond in repentance. Infants cannot hear God’s call and respond. Therefore, Acts 2:38–39 does not imply infant baptism.

Conclusion: No Implication of Infant Baptism

Examined in context, Acts 2:38–39 provides no loophole for infant baptism. Actually, this passage makes an excellent case against infant baptism. Yes, the children of those who repented at Pentecost are mentioned in the passage. But there is no evidence that these children were infants at the time or that they were baptized on that day. In context, those who were baptized were given the prerequisite of repentance. Then, they are described as those who “gladly received his word,” and “all those who believed.” Yes, people of all ages and from any geographic location can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. However, each must first individually respond to God’s call. Because infants cannot do this yet, then this passage cannot imply infant baptism.

Attempts to read infant baptism into Acts 2:38–39 indicates that tradition or a system of theology has taken precedence over sound biblical exegesis. The same is true for arguments for linking Jewish circumcision with infant baptism in Colossians 2:11–12 (see my related article). We must understand each verse in its context and avoid the trap of letting a system of theology redefine what God has said. God’s Word must always have priority.2


1 Why is baptism listed in Acts 2:38 as a prerequisite for the gift of the Holy Spirit? The book of Acts is a transition period. As God gave the Holy Spirit for the first time to the Jews who needed a sign and anticipated the coming of the Spirit because of the prophecies of the prophet Joel, God confirmed the Holy Spirit had indeed come by linking His arrival with baptism when others were there to witness His arrival. We see this pattern three times in Acts: (1) here in Acts 2, (2) in Samaria with Jews present in Acts 8:14–17, and (3) at Ephesus with Jewish disciples of John the Baptist in Acts 19:1–7. In Acts 10:44–48 when the first Gentiles came to Christ, the only prerequisite for receiving the Holy Spirit was faith in Jesus Christ. Water baptism followed faith and the indwelling of the Spirit. The teaching of the epistles reflects this pattern.

2 Peter Goeman’s book, The Baptism Debate: Understanding and Evaluating Reformed Infant Baptism, is an excellent example of an approach that gives Scripture precedence over tradition or systems of theology.

MR Conrad Bio

Dr. Conrad serves in urban Asia. He, his wife, and their four children squeeze into a 700 square-foot apartment where he seizes rare moments of quiet to write amidst homeschooling, a cacophony of musical instruments, and the steady stream of visitors they so enjoy having in their home. He enjoys birding, board games, and basketball. He is the author of, so far, two books.