googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Acts 2:38, Repent and be Baptized for the Remission of Sins

Friday, December 12, 2008

Acts 2:38, Repent and be Baptized for the Remission of Sins

In another post (here), I mentioned that I did not believe baptism is necessary for salvation. One text people often cite as support for the idea of “baptismal regeneration” is Acts 2:38:

Πέτρος δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς· μετανοήσατε [φησίν] καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν καὶ λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος.

Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” [NASB]

The understanding of this passage hinges on the word “for.” When Peter says “Be baptized FOR the forgiveness of your sins,” does that mean “be baptized in order to obtain forgiveness of your sins”? Some people think so.

The word “for” in English can have different meanings. It can mean “in order to obtain” as in, “He went to the store for milk.” It can also mean “because of” as in, “He was punished for his sins.” The Greek word translated “for” here is the word, εἰς. And like “for” in English, εἰς can have different meanings. The most ordinary meaning of the word is as a preposition meaning “into” but like “for” it can also mean “in order to obtain” and “because of.”

Let’s look at the very easily understood passage of Matthew 12:41

ἄνδρες Νινευῖται ἀναστήσονται ἐν τῇ κρίσει μετὰ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης καὶ κατακρινοῦσιν αὐτήν, ὅτι μετενόησαν εἰς τὸ κήρυγμα Ἰωνᾶ, καὶ ἰδοὺ πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ ὧδε.

"The men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at (εἰς) the preaching of Jonah; and behold, a greater than Jonah is here." (ASV)

The word εἰς here is translated “at.” In this passage, the very clear meaning of the word is “because of.” Obviously the men of Nineveh did not repent in order to obtain the preaching of Jonah; They repented because of the preaching of Jonah.

So Acts 2:38 can easily be understood to mean, “Repent! and be baptized because of the remission of sins.”

As an aside, I've already mentioned the word εἰς is more commonly understood to mean “into.” The word βαπτίζω (βαπτισθήτω) is an untranslated word meaning, “immerse” (Strong’s word # 907). So, another possible interpretation of the verse is “Repent and be immersed into the forgiveness of sins.” In this light, ceremonial water baptism is not implied at all. Of course, I only offer this as food for thought; we know the converted at Pentecost were baptized in water. This is sort of a “what if” thought.

In conclusion let me just say that we need not endure repeated demands that Acts 2:38 can ONLY be understood to mean we must be baptized in order to be saved. We can see that there are other reasonable interpretations of the passage. Indeed, I believe the “because of” understanding is the correct one.


Gary said...

I've lost track of the number of times that a Baptist or evangelical has told me that Acts 2:38 was mistranslated; that the "for" in that passage of God's Holy Word should be removed and replaced with "because of".

It doesn't matter to them that every English translation of the Bible translates this word in Acts 2:38 as "for" or "into" and never "because of", because these Christians know in their hearts that God would never, ever say that baptism has anything to do with the forgiveness of sins.

Below is an excellent article by Lutheran pastor, Matt Richards on this subject:

RKBentley said...


Thanks for visiting my blog.

I think you've misunderstood my point. I'm not saying that the word εἰς should be translated as “because of” instead of “for.” As a matter of fact, I prefer “for” as the translation because it is equally ambiguous to the original text.

You seem to have completely ignored the fact that εἰς has different meanings. The most ordinary meaning, by far, is as a preposition meaning, “into.” In this context, however, I don't believe it means “into.” It either means, “for the purpose of” the remission of sins or it means “because of” the remission of sins. The English word “for” carries a similar ambiguity. My examples given in the post were, “He went to the store FOR milk” and “He went to prison FOR his crimes.” The word “for” then carries a similar semantic range of meaning as εἰς, thus I say it is the preferred translation.

I have always believed that a good translation conveys the same meaning as the original; if the original is ambiguous, then the translation should be equally ambiguous. You, on the other hand, want to force a single meaning onto the word. You're saying it ONLY means, “for the purpose of.” I understand that you may believe baptism is necessary for salvation but you cannot put the cart before the horse. Our understanding of Scripture should shape our theology; Our theology should not shape our understanding of Scripture.

Finally, I have called upon Jesus as my Savior and I HAVE BEEN BAPTIZED. So why do I continue to receive correction about the need for baptism? I have had people with similar beliefs as yours tell me that I'm NOT a Christian because I was not baptized “for” the remission of sins. I believe it's a wedge that divides the Church unnecessarily.

Thank you again for your comments. Please keep visiting and commenting.

God bless!!

Anonymous said...

I have looked at this issue a lot. I do not know Greek but it seems if we take the plain language then Peter is saying to repent and you will be immersed into the forgiveness of your sins. I have yet to talk to a Greek expert on this but in context (especially with 3:19) it seems that to repent (and fully believe) you will receive full forgiveness. It then goes on to say that the 3000 were "baptized' (in water). We so often have to understand words with multiple possible meanings by looking at their contexts. You are the first I have found to mention this possibility. Interesting!!! I learned a lot from the Church of Christ but they seem to only be able to see this baptizo word meaning the ritual of being dipped into water. Have you had any discussions on this possible understanding of acts 2:38? thanks Bradd.