The journey continues (2): analyzing the authorities

This is the second in a series. The first article can be found here.

Ever sought a second opinion? Why explore additional insight? Aren’t doctors highly educated? Of course they are. Nevertheless, even when professionals are very proficient, sometimes their opinions will vary for a variety of reasons.

Would you be surprised at Greek experts disagreeing? Before delving further into my journey to explore what those “faith of Christ” texts mean, consider a little story about the Greek preposition “eis.”

In college I first encountered Bruce Metzger’s excellent graphic illustrating the meanings different Greek prepositions carry. To illustrate eis, he drew an arrow advancing into a three dimensional box. Beneath eis and the arrow was “into.” A chorus of Greek lexicons and grammars agree. Eis communicates into, in, toward, to or for (to denote purpose).

What would we do, however, if we discovered within scripture eis presenting an idea which does not square with our understanding of salvation? Would we reevaluate eis, or would we be willing to reexamine our doctrine? Would we do both and perhaps use Occum’s razor to seek the simplest explanation as being the most reliable?

As I progressed along my path of study, I discovered this situation exists for some people. Acts 2:38 teaches that people are to repent and be baptized eis (into, for) the remission of sins. Taken at face value this verse asserts people are to be baptized  into the remission of sins, that is they are baptized for the purpose of being forgiven.

The Greek lexicon by Arndt, Gingrich and Danker attributes this normal functioning of eis to Acts 2:38. After quoting the appropriate Greek phrase, it then explains, “for the forgiveness of sins, so that sins might be forgiven Mt 26:28; cf. Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3; Ac 2:38″ (p. 229).

However Julius Mantey dissented in his Greek grammar by claiming that while eis in Acts 2:38 “may mean for the purpose of remission of sins,” in this verse it could carry a casual or retroactive sense – because of. To prove this is a legitimate possibility, he cited Matthew 12:41 where we find the men of Nineveh “repented eis preaching of Jonah.”

He asked, “What led to their repentance? Of course, it was Jonah’s preaching” (p. 104). His point is that they repented because of Jonah’s preaching, rather than repenting into his preaching.

In spite of Mantey’s argument, the normal understanding of eis can stand in this verse. While it is true that the people of Nineveh did repent because of Jonah’s preaching, this is not Matthew’s point. Rather, Matthew 12:41 contrasts the nature of the Jewish response toward Jesus’ message with how the Ninevites responded toward Jonah’s message. Translated literally, “they repented toward (eis) the preaching of Jonah.”

Within the Journal of Biblical Literature, Mantey also made a case for the existence of a casual sense of eis from Josephus and Polybius. As is the case in scholarship, Ralph Marcus challenged Mantey’s arguments point by point in the Journal of Biblical Literature.

The result? When Daniel B. Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary published his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics he concluded, “Marcus ably demonstrated that the linguistic evidence for a casual eis fell short of proof” (p. 370).

From Mantey’s grammar perhaps we discover his bottomline reasoning for believing eis can contain a casual meaning. After discussing Acts 2:38 and Matthew 12:41 he wrote, “Christianity … is a religion of salvation by faith while all others teach salvation by works” (p. 104). Are we to understand that Acts 2:38 could upset his perspective of faith and works?

So what are we to do when experts disagree?  Throw our hands up in despair? Enter the fray of claiming that my authority can beat up your authority? Nope!

Here’s a few ideas I’ve picked up along the path:

  1. Don’t dismiss the professionals, just recognize they are human. As A.T. Robinson observed,  “Instances remain where syntax cannot say the last word, where theological bias will inevitably determine how one interprets …. When the grammarian has finished, the theologian steps in, and sometimes before the grammarian is through.”
  2. The normal functioning and understanding is preferred over a claim for an unusual or exceptional one.
  3. Since scripture is the standard, follow the evidence.
  4. Our goal will determine what we find. Seek truth.

Perhaps appropriate questions for this leg of my journey are: If eis upsets my understanding of salvation, how am I inclined to respond? Will I discover a new meaning for eis or might I reconsider my understanding of baptism?

Where does the evidence point on faith and works? Should we limit faith to believing, or might it embrace the larger sphere of trusting? Should we define works as doing something, or might it more closely align with demonstrating the righteousness we believe we already possess? Is baptism an act of faith in the same way that confessing Christ is an act of faith?

Follow the evidence. Seek truth.

Next article: The Journey Continues (3): Gleaning Genitive Gems

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They are the parents of two young men.

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