Does Acts 2:38 Mean What it Says? (Part One)

The first gospel sermon is presented in Acts 2. Peter stands to preach and tells the Jews assembled in Jerusalem that they had crucified Jesus, the Son of God. Cut to the heart, they ask, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37, NKJV). Peter answers, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Simply stated, one must repent and be baptized in order to have their sins forgiven (cf. Acts 22:16). While plain and uncomplicated, controversy nonetheless swirls around this verse. The charge is made that it means we should be baptized because we are already saved, that baptism is an outward evidence of an inward grace.
The argument revolves around the definition of the word “for” (“eis” in Greek) in the phrase “for the remission of sins.” Those who teach this doctrine claim that “for” means “because of.” Hence, they claim that baptism is necessary only after we have been saved. We shall examine why this doctrine cannot be true.
First, it violates what the translators and Greek scholars have written. “Eis” is used over 1,700 times in the New Testament and never is it translated “because of.” /1 The word “eis” means “in order to, with a view to.” /2 Joseph Thayer defines “eis” as, “denoting entrance into, or direction and limit: into, to, towards, for.” /3 Bauer translates it as “into, toward.” /4 In fact, it is difficult to find any Greek scholar who will translate “eis” as “because of.”
A. T. Robertson is one such scholar who does argue that it should read “because of.” He said, “When the grammarian has finished, the theologian steps in, and sometimes before the grammarian is through.” /5 But, contrary to his opinions, we must not take our beliefs and force Scripture to say what we want it to say. /6
Those who argue that “eis” means “because of” in Acts 2:38 have a challenge with translations of the Bible. As Phil Sanders has said, “So far as this author knows, there is no major, credible version that has ever translated Acts 2:38 with the words ‘because of.'”/7 Certainly if “eis” meant “because of” there would be many translations that reflected that fact. Yet, it is not true. /8
There is a term used in philosophy called Ockham’s razor. “This rule is interpreted to mean that the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable.”/9 Or, the simplest explanation is the best.
Applying this rule to Acts 2:38, we come to the following conclusions: First, a simple English reading of Acts 2:38 says baptism is for the remission of sins. Second, a simple review of all major translations of the New Testament finds that none translate “eis” as “because of.” Third, a simple review of what Greek scholars have written on this verse shows that “eis” does not mean “because of.”
To deny this evidence and still maintain the opinion that Acts 2:38 means we should be baptized “because” we are already saved is to be defeated by Ockham’s razor.
2/ A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek NT in Light of Historical Research, p. 389.
3/ 183.
4/ Walter Bauer, William Ardnt and Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 228.
5/ 592.
8/ I have a listing of nearly 50 translations and none say “because of.”

4 Replies to “Does Acts 2:38 Mean What it Says? (Part One)”

  1. John,
    I know you’ve brought up Romans 10:9-10 on the other posts of mine that deal with baptism. Acts 2:38 and Romans 10:9-10 are both inspired and necessary. I teach both passages as absolute truth. Why do you think they contradict one another? If they do contradict each other, which inspired text is wrong? What criterion would you use to choose between them? Thanks for your answers. I appreciate very much your faithful reading of my column.

  2. Romans 10:9-10 was written to those who had already obeyed Acts 2:38 (Romans 1:7). Acts 2:38 speaks of the only way to be saved, while Romans 10:9-10 speaks of maintaining salvation.

  3. William,
    Excellent point. I will be speaking on this next Sunday and writing about this passage soon.
    We also have to remember the confession in the light of persecution. They had to confess Christ or Caesar. To confess the latter would be to turn their back on Christ (Matthew 10:32-33).
    Thanks for your comments and for reading Forthright!
    Richard Mansel

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