WAS CORNELIUS SAVED
BEFORE HE WAS BAPTIZED?

Written by Ron Hutchison
April 29, 2005


I recently received an email in response to some of the teaching I have on my web page about the necessity of baptism for the remission of sins (See "The Place of Baptism in God's Plan of Salvation").  It was evidently an objection to this teaching that caused the writer to say this about baptism in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10-11):

"The following syllogism demonstrates that water baptism is not necessary for salvation:

a.  If one has the Holy Spirit they are saved. You can not have the Holy Spirit and be lost.
     Romans 8:9; Galatians 4:6 and 1John 4:13 are clear on this.
b.  Cornelius 'received' the Holy Spirit before he was baptized (Acts 10:47).
c.  Therefore Cornelius was already saved before he was baptized."

The argument is invalid for several reasons:

First, Cornelius' reception of the Holy Spirit represented a very unique situation. He was the first Gentile to be offered the gospel. The reception of the Spirit (the gift of the Holy Spirit) was given for a very specific purpose.  The fact is, the reception of the Spirit in this case had nothing at all to do with Cornelius' personal salvation. The outpouring of the Spirit was to persuade the Jews that Gentiles had a right to the kingdom of heaven, as well as Jews. Read these passages:

"And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also." (Acts 10:45 - NKJV).

"If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?"  (Acts 11:17 - NKJV).

 "So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." (Acts 15:8,9 - NKJV).

Second, the apostle Peter, in his defense of the Gentiles' acceptance into the church, made it very clear that God "made no distinction between us [Jews] and them [Gentiles]" (Acts 15:9). If one can learn what the Jews were required to do in order to receive the forgiveness of their sins, he will be forced to conclude that the identical process applied to Cornelius and his household.

Acts 2 contains the record of the first time after Jesus' resurrection that the gospel was preached to the Jews. Believers who had been convinced by the preaching of the gospel of Christ were instructed:  "...Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." (2:38). Baptism was just as important to their remission of sins as repentance was.

One must conclude that Cornelius was under the same obligation. This is why Peter "commanded" the Gentile soldier and his household to be immersed (Acts10:48).

Third, Peter makes clear when he retold these events in Acts chapter 11 that he was explaining "...it to them in order from the beginning," (cf. Acts 11:4).  The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates this phrase like this: "Peter began to explain to them in an orderly sequence..."  In chapter 10 the events are not given in "an orderly sequence." In chapter 11 they are.  Notice that Peter explains that the Spirit fell upon Cornelius just as he "began to speak" (Acts 11:15). Therefore, this was before the Gentiles even heard the message, and thus before they had faith (cf. Romans 10:17). If the "syllogism" mentioned above is valid, then Cornelius was saved without faith because, according to Peter, the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and the other Gentiles as he "began to speak."

If we were to follow the objector's type of "reasoning" we might set forth the following syllogism:

1.  If one has the Holy Spirit he is saved.
2.  Cornelius received the Holy Spirit before he believed in Jesus.
3.  Therefore Cornelius was saved before he believed in Jesus.

If the objector's syllogism is correct, then he has to accept this syllogism too.  If his is valid, this one is valid.  Seeing that the objector told me that a person is saved by "grace alone" plus "faith alone" (which is it?),  I don't suppose that he would accept this syllogism.  However, the fact is that the Gentiles received the gift of the Holy Spirit as "Peter began to speak" and thus had not been told the words that were necessary for them to believe in Jesus as the Son of God at that time. 

Note: I am not questioning the sincerity of the one who made the statement by asking "which is it?" referring to the statement made by the objector that we are saved by "grace alone plus faith alone."  The word "alone" is an exclusive word.  It means "to the exclusion of all others or all else." (Dictionary.com).  Thus, one may say that we are saved by faith alone or grace alone, but not by "grace alone plus faith alone."   Why not just say it like the Bible says it? "For by grace you have been saved through faith..." (Ephesians 2:8).  It takes both God's grace and man's faith to accomplish salvation.  

It is interesting how the words that Peter was to speak to Cornelius are emphasized throughout chapters 10 and 11. The words in red emphasize this.

Notice:

"Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do." (Acts 10:5-6).

"And they said, 'Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you." (Acts 10:22).

"Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you." (Acts 10:32).

"So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God." (Acts 10:33).

"Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God." (Acts 11:1).

"And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, 'Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved." (Acts 11:13-14).

The emphasis in these passages is upon the word that had to be spoken to Cornelius and the other Gentiles in order for them to be saved.  When Peter sets forth the events  "in orderly sequence" in chapter 11, he shows that the words that he came to tell them "by which you and all your household will be saved" occurred after the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they could not have been saved when they received the Holy Spirit because the words by which they would be saved had not been spoken yet.  They could not have been "purified by faith" as the Jews were (Acts 15:8-9) because they had not yet had the word preached to them that produced faith (Romans 10:17).

Fourth, the first statement in the objectors "syllogism" is not proven (i.e. "If one has the Holy Spirit they are saved"), thus the conclusion is invalid.  In fact, it is disproved by the case under consideration.  The Gentiles received the gift of the Holy Spirit before they were saved.  This shows that the first statement in the objectors "syllogism" is  incorrect and thus the conclusion (i.e., that Cornelius was already saved before he was baptized) is incorrect.  The passages used to "prove" this statement cannot be interpreted in such as way as to contradict the plain facts of Acts chapters 10 and 11. It is true that we have no record of anyone else receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit but Christians after the case of Cornelius. But the case of the Gentiles in Acts 10 and 11 is unique and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit for a unique purpose and before they were saved.

 

CONCLUSION

Cornelius is not an example to prove that one can be saved without baptism. In fact, it proves just the opposite when the facts are known and understood.   It was through the preaching of the gospel that faith was produced in the hearts of Cornelius and the other Gentiles present on that day that led them to obey the gospel.  Baptism was a necessary part of that obedience. 

The writer accused me of having "succumbed to the false gospel of water baptism"  by which I suppose he is saying that I teach that we are saved by baptism alone or that I believe in so-called "water salvation."  Nothing could be further from the truth.  (See my articles entitled, God's Chain of Salvation and "The Place of Baptism in God's Plan of Salvation"). But if I teach that "baptism saves us" I'm in good company (1Peter 3:21; Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 22:16; Acts 2:38) and I am just teaching what the Bible teaches.  Are people saved by "baptism only?" No. Are they saved by baptism? Yes, just as the Bible teaches that we are saved by many other things as I point out in the article, God's Chain of Salvation.

May God open the eyes of this precious soul as well as all others who object to what the Bible teaches about the necessity of baptism (immersion) for the remission of sins.


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