Baptism and Forgiveness in Acts 2:38 -- By: Luther B. McIntyre, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 153:609 (Jan 1996)
Article: Baptism and Forgiveness in Acts 2:38
Author: Luther B. McIntyre, Jr.


Baptism and Forgiveness in Acts 2:38

Luther B. McIntyre Jr.

[Luther B. McIntyre Jr. is a Bible teacher in Louisville, Kentucky.]

Those who insist on the necessity of water baptism for salvation rely heavily on Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”1 Das says of this verse, “This has been a pivotal verse for the Lutheran, sacramental position.”2 The exegetical arguments almost without exception have focused on the interpretation of the word εἰς (rendered “for” in the New American Standard Bible). Those favoring the doctrine of baptismal regeneration understand εἰς as purposive or causative. The usual evangelical position is stated by Robertson, who pointed out that another valid interpretation is that εἰς may mean the basis or ground on which baptism is performed.3 Both positions find support in the New Testament. Discussing Luke’s usage of εἰς, Davis has shown that the evidence favors purpose rather than “basis or ground.”4 His arguments are persuasive, and will not be repeated here.5 Instead, conceding that εἰς is purposive in Acts 2:38, a more

fundamental question must be addressed: To which verb—μετανοήσατε (“repent”) or βαπτισθήτω (“be baptized”—the only occurrence of this third person imperative in the New Testament)—does the prepositional phrase “for the remission of your sins” refer?

The natural inclination for the reader of an English version of the Bible is to impose English rules of syntax on the text. In Acts 2:38 this would mean associating the phrase “for the remission of your sins” with the command to “be baptized” because of word proximity. However, Greek is not constrained with rules of word order in the same ways as English. “The freedom of the Greek from artificial rules and its response to the play of the mind is never seen better than in the order of words in the sentence.”6 Turner has shown that in Greek oratory the effect of unnatural word order may be even more pronounced: “Interrupt...

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