A Bible student looking for the truth and the atheist looking for contradictions may ask the same question when it comes to a major theme of the New Testament.
“Why are there different answers when it comes to telling someone how to be saved?“
The root of the question is obvious. Read the book of Acts and you find a plurality of situations: Some are told to believe. Some are told to repent and be baptized. Some are told to repent. Some are told to hear certain words before any other instructions were given. Some simply have “Jesus preached” to them.
So what’s the answer? Were the preachers confused? Did they preach and believe different doctrines? Did the Holy Spirit actually inspire this apparent contradiction? Is there an easy and understandable way to explain the answer to this question?
Well, no – no – yes – yes.
People were given answers based on their preexisting knowledge about God, Jesus and the gospel.
A group of Jews who believed in Jesus were told to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:37-38). A Roman Centurion very familiar with the God of the Bible, but not the gospel of Jesus the Christ, was told to first hear the gospel and then later told to believe and be baptized (Acts 10:1-6, 37-43, 47-48). A pagan who knew nothing about God was told to believe (Acts 16:30-31). Pagans who were very familiar with many gods but only somewhat familiar with the idea of a God were told to repent (Acts 17:29-32).
These are only a portion of the examples that can be given, but the same situation applies to every example that can be discussed – answers to questions are based upon the person’s preexisting (or non-existent) knowledge of the truth found in the gospel of Jesus.
There is no contradiction in the book of Acts when it comes to answering what one must do to be saved if the whole of God’s word is presented. The holes and contradictions happen when one tries to teach only hearing, or only believing, or only repentance, or only confession, or only baptism, or only faithfulness is necessary to be saved.
When it comes to answering what someone must do to be saved, one must keep in mind where the individual is coming from before he or she can be told how to get where they need to be in Jesus.
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV)
“And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16 NKJV)
“Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”” (Luke 24:46-49 NKJV)