During the first gospel sermon, some of the Jews assembled in Jerusalem realize they have murdered the Son of God. They cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37, NKJV). Peter replies, “Repent, and let every one 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, we must repent and be baptized in order to have our sins forgiven (cf. Acts 22:16). The charge is made that 2:38 means we should be baptized because we are already saved, that baptism is an outward evidence of an inward grace. They claim that “for” (Greek word “eis”) really means “because of” and that we should be baptized only after we have been saved.
We discussed how this cannot be true for the following reasons /1 A simple reading in English denies this interpretation. Moreover, no credible translation of the New Testament translates “eis” as “because of.” Finally, it is very difficult to find any Greek scholar who will attest to “eis” meaning “because of” and the phrase “for the remission of sins” as “because of the remission of sins.”
Bauer translates the phrase as “for forgiveness of sins, so that sins might be forgiven” /2 The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says, “for the forgiveness of sins.” /3 Thayer says it means to “obtain the forgiveness of sins.” /4 The Expositor’s Greek Testament says, “the aim of the command is the forgiveness of sins” /5
Second, the use of “eis” in another key passage denies this interpretation. In Matthew 26:28 Jesus says, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” The usage of “eis” in “remission of sins” is the same in Acts 2:38 and Matthew 26:28. Identical usage and word order should result in a consistent translation. If “eis” means “because of” in Acts 2:38 then it will also mean the same in Matthew 26:28. Accordingly, the latter passage would now read “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many because of the remission of sins.” Meaning, of course, that Jesus died and shed his blood because we were already saved. That would violate all reason and Scripture, making Jesus’ death of no avail (Romans 5:9,10).
Third, the immediate context denies this interpretation. Repentance and baptism are linked in this passage. Peter says, “Repent and be baptized … for the remission of sins.” Repentance and baptism are both part of the process of the “remission of sins.” Bruce, who believes baptism is not for the remission of sins, concedes that it would be “a mistake” to separate “for the forgiveness of sins” from baptism and repentance. /6 Therefore, if “eis” means “because of,” then we must repent because we already have our sins washed away. This violates all we know about repentance. /7 How could we have a change of life only after we have become a Christian?
Moreover, in Acts 2:37 the people were “cut to the heart” and cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter responds by telling them to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). If their plea is in 2:37 and “eis” in 2:38 means they should repent and be baptized because they have already been saved, then someone would have to explain how these people became saved between Acts 2:37 and 2:38. The very fact that they asked the question in 2:37 signifies they now believed Jesus was the Messiah. Yet, their sins were not “remitted” until 2:38.
2/ Bauer, Ardnt, Gingrich and Danker, “A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 229.
4/ Joseph Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 94.
6/ F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, p. 70.
Is baptism before or after the remission of sins?