Some argue that Acts 22:16 teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation. However, clearer Scripture passages definitively teach that baptism is not necessary for salvation—since justification is by faith alone—and there is a very reasonable of Acts 22:16 that does not contradict with the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.Acts 22:16
Those who argue that baptism is necessary for salvation argue that it is only after baptism that one’s sins are washed away.
One reason we know that Paul was not saved ”’after”’ being baptized is because Scripture clearly teaches that Paul was saved ”’before”’ the events of Acts 22:16 and his meeting Ananias.
In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul says that he received the gospel when Jesus revealed himself to Paul on the road to Damascus, which occurred before he met Ananias.
11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but ”’I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ”’.Galatians 1:11-12
Also, in Acts 26:12-18, Paul summarizes what happened while he was on the road to Damascus (before he met Ananias), and says that Jesus appointed Paul as his servant and messenger, which implies that Paul was saved at this time, since Jesus would not appoint someone who was not saved as his servant and messenger.
The obvious implication of all of this is that Paul was saved on the road to Damascus, and ”’not”’ when he was baptized.
15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for ”’I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness”’ to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,Acts 26:15-16
Since baptism is a public declaration, symbol, and representation of a person’s faith, it is sometimes used synonymously with faith. Furthermore, the Greek word “calling on” (ἐπικαλεσάμενος) can also be translated “having called on,” since the aorist participle can also refer to an action ”’before”’ the main verb, “be baptized.”
So, we can perhaps paraphrase Acts 22:16 in this way:
Since you have called on his name, rise and be baptized, which represents the faith you already have and the washing away of your sins.Acts 22:16
It is interesting to note that Paul receives the Holy Spirit in Acts 9:17, ”’after”’ being saved while on the road to Damascus. This is similar to what happened with the Samaritans in Acts 8:14-16.
So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”Acts 9:17
14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.Acts 8:14-16
To understand how a person can be saved ”’before”’ receiving the Holy Spirit, we should acknowledge that there are transitional periods that are not normative.
It is reasonable to believe that during non-normative transitional periods, a person might be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and thus saved, yet not receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit until a later time.
It seems that Old Testament believers may have experienced something similar. Old Testament believers who were saved must have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, yet it seems they were not permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but rather some believers only received temporary indwellings of the Holy Spirit.
However, now that we are past these transitional periods, all Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit at the moment of regeneration and salvation. We should not use non-normative events, or unclear passages, as a foundation for our theology.
There are clear passages that teach that salvation and justification is through faith alone. 1 Peter 3:21 is not entirely clear concerning whether baptism is necessary for salvation, so we must interpret 1 Peter 3:21 in light of Scripture’s clear teaching elsewhere concerning what ”’is”’ necessary for salvation.
To read more, see Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?