Most people who know anything at all about the Christian faith realize that Peter preached the first gospel sermon ever preached on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. The second recorded sermon in the Christian dispensation of time is again a sermon preached by Peter as found in the next chapter in Acts, chapter 3. That there was preaching being done between Peter’s first sermon and his second there is no doubt for the Bible says “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47 NAS) and this was after Pentecost but before the events recorded in Acts 3.
Of those sermons, of which we know nothing, we can only say with certainty that the truth was taught and what was taught was the same as that taught by Peter in Acts 2 by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For it to be otherwise would be to say two or more different gospels were preached which we are sure was not the case. Peter did not preach one gospel one day and another gospel another day. He did not have a different gospel for everyday of the week or month nor did one apostle preach one thing and another apostle preach something else.
In order to not make this article too long I want to zero in on only one issue – what did Peter tell those he preached to on this second preaching occasion that they needed to do in order to be saved? The answer to that is found in Acts 3:19, “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (NAS) The English Standard Version has, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” The New King James has, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.”
Albert Barnes, the well known Bible commentator, says of the Greek word translated “return” or “turn again” or “be converted” in this passage that it “means properly to ‘turn; to return to a path from which one has gone astray; and then to turn away from sins, or to forsake them.’ It is a word used in a general sense to denote ‘the whole turning to God.’” (from his commentary on Acts) It does not then designate one specific thing but includes everything not covered by the word “repent.”
One needs to ask some questions. Earlier in this sermon Peter has accused those of whom he was speaking to of delivering up Jesus to be killed (Acts 3:13), disowning Jesus (Acts 3:13), and asking that a murderer be set free rather than Jesus thus condemning Jesus to death (Acts 3:14-15). In view of Jesus’ innocence of all wrongdoing this was sin and sin of the worst sort since Jesus was the Son of God. What they had done was evil and repentance was needed.
Now what is repentance? Paul says, “Godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation.” (2 Cor. 7:10 NKJV) Thus godly sorrow precedes repentance and is not itself repentance. Judas was sorry but did not repent in the biblical sense of the word and was not saved thus the sorrow he had was not “godly sorrow” since godly sorrow leads to repentance and salvation. Jesus said with reference to Judas, “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had never been born.” (Mark 14:21 NKJV) Jesus could not have said that of Judas had Judas been saved in the end.
John the Baptist spoke of bearing “fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8 NKJV) thus reformation of life is a product of repentance and is not in itself repentance but a result of repentance. Repentance is that which lies between godly sorrow and reformation of life and we might ask what that is? It is a determination made in the mind and will of man to cease sin and to turn to God and live for God. It is a matter of the mind and will of man, a decision made because of godly sorrow that will lead to reformation of life, a turning from sin and a turning to God and a godly life.
The point being made is that when Peter used the phrase “return” in Acts 3:19 he had something in mind other than repentance. He had already told them to repent. He was not being redundant in his language. He was not just using different words to refer to the same thing.
Now the careful reader who reads the entire sermon (Acts 3:12-26) will note that just like in Peter’s first gospel sermon (Acts 2) he does not mention faith in Christ. Is it because he does not think it matters? That is ridiculous in view of the fact Peter is speaking by means of the Holy Spirit and the whole New Testament emphasizes faith. The explanation lies elsewhere. In Acts 3 faith in Christ is understood. How so? No one repents until convicted by guilt. No one is convicted by guilt of sin until they come to believe. It is not possible to repent until you believe. Repentance itself will be proof of faith.
If one will take the time to read Acts 3:12-18 he will see clearly that Peter has preached Christ to them and the sin he points out to them that they are guilty of is not just the murder of any ordinary man but of God’s “Servant Jesus” (Acts 3:13 NAS), the “Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14 NAS), the “Prince of life” (Acts 3:15 NAS). Now they have just witnessed a miracle done in the name of this Jesus whom they had put to death (the man lame from his mother’s womb – Acts 3:2) and Peter has done this preaching to them. If they repent it will only be because of faith. They will have come to believe what Peter preached.
We are now at a point in this sermon that we were in Peter’s first sermon. No mention of faith but faith is necessarily implied. We are then told directly in both sermons the necessity of repentance (Acts 2:38 and Acts 3:19). We are also told in both sermons that if we will do as Peter has said, said by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we will have “the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38) or that which is the same “”your sins may be wiped away.” (Acts 3:19 NAS) But in both sermons there is something else mentioned in addition to repentance that is necessary unless we desire to cut sentences in half and delete part of God’s word on the subject.
We can now come to an understanding of what the word “return” means in Acts 3:19, the other thing Peter says that is needed to have sins wiped away, by seeing what it was Peter required of those on the Day of Pentecost in order to have “the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38 NAS). What was that one thing he mentioned that it would take to obtain the forgiveness of sins in addition to repentance on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2? It was baptism.
Now note what Barnes said as quoted earlier. “It (a reference to the Greek word translated “return” in the NAS or “be converted” in the NKJV – DS) is a word used in a general sense to denote ‘the whole turning to God.’” All that is left of that turning to God according to Peter in his Acts 2 sermon is baptism. Should we be surprised? Why should we be surprised? Do we think the Holy Spirit preached different gospels at different times? If baptism was required of those not Christians on the Day of Pentecost why would we think it would not be required of those not Christians some days later?
But one might argue that the word “return” does not mean baptism. No it does not for it is a general term, not a specific term. In the KJ and the NKJV the Greek word is translated “be converted.” Surely everyone can see that phrase is general not specific. It tells you to do something but not how to do it. You have to learn that elsewhere. How would one do that? Simple! By seeing how the thing was done under similar circumstances elsewhere – in Acts 2. How were sins wiped away elsewhere? What was required elsewhere for the forgiveness of sins?
But one might object and say it means in this context of Acts 3 return to God. Yes, but how is that done in this gospel dispensation? How did Peter say it was done in his first gospel sermon, the first one ever preached to humanity?
A lot of denominational people do not like Peter’s Acts 2 sermon because of what he says about baptism and would like to somehow or another get rid of it. One common way is to try and pit Peter against Paul mistakenly thinking Paul taught something different on salvation (he did not). That effort will not succeed. Paul, then called Saul, was not converted until Acts chapter 9 some 3 years after the church was established and after the gospel was being preached (dating according to “The Oxford Companion to the Bible,” edited by Metzger and Coogan, pages 120-121). Were there no Christians until Paul began preaching? Acts 2:47 says there were daily conversions. Thousands were converted before Paul.
Later in his comments on this preaching occasion Peter quotes Moses saying, “The Lord God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to him you shall give heed in everything he says to you. And it shall be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall