Is There Forgiveness of Sins In Baptism? Taking A Closer Look At Acts 2:38

August 25th, 2013 Post by

674PX-~1“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:38-39

Acts 2:38 is a very popular Bible passage among Christians. If one does a Google search on this passage, they will find themselves immersed in 3.5 million hits pertaining to this passage. So, what is the fascination with this passage? Typically this passage is brought up in conversations and debate over the issue of baptism.  Yes, indeed it is a very controversial text in regard to the issue of the efficacy of baptism.

As a Lutheran, I obviously have strong opinions on the doctrine of Baptism. These strong opinions are rooted in passages like Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21. With that said, the accusation could be stated that I am reading my Lutheran presuppositions into verses like Acts 2:38. If this is the case, how can I, and you as the reader, be aware of these presuppositions? After all, we are called to be Biblical Christians. One of the ways to discover and reveal presuppositions is to go deeper into the text. In other words, when we delve into the Scriptures and implement the rules of grammar the original meaning will come forth.  If there are non-Biblical presuppositions, the text will collide with the presuppositions and force a worldview and/or epistemological crisis.  The more one descends into a text, the more obvious presuppositions should become. So, in the spirit of this article, let’s do just that. Let’s descend into the text (for those who don’t know Koine Greek, don’t worry, we’ll take this slow)

Πέτρος δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς, Μετανοήσατε, φησίν, καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν, καὶ λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος· ὑμῖν γάρ ἐστιν ἡ ἐπαγγελία καὶ τοῖς τέκνοις ὑμῶν καὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς εἰς μακρὰν ὅσους ἂν προσκαλέσηται κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν.

In this passage the key area is what to do with the prepositional phrase ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ (i.e., εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν). In other words, how does this prepositional phrase function in the sentence?  First, we need to acknowledge that prepositional phrases are typically tied to the closest verb in the sentence. That being said, there are two verbs in which this prepositional phrase can be attached to.  However, both of the verbs are joined by the word καὶ (i.e, and).  Therefore, it can be argued that ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ could be attached to ‘be baptized’ alone or both verbs ‘repent’ and ‘be baptized.’  While this article could delve into whether the prepositional phrase should be attached to ‘be baptized’ alone or both ‘repent’ and ‘be baptized,’ one thing is for sure, it is not reasonable to attach the prepositional phrase to the word ‘repent’ alone.  Yes, what some individuals attempt to do is to bypass the verb ‘be baptized’ and attach the prepositional phrase ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ to the word ‘repent.’ However, as previously stated, it is not appropriate to skip the verb ‘be baptized.’ According to a good friend of mine: “If someone is going to argue that ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ refers to ‘repent,’ they need to explain why baptism is placed in between.”  In other words, it very difficult to disregard the verb ‘be baptized’ and attach the prepositional phrase to ‘repent’ only, without some other Greek markers.  Indeed forgiveness of sins is attached to baptism.

In regard to baptism, it is important to note in this passage that ‘be baptized’ is in the passive voice. Otherwise stated, the command from Peter is not for the hearers to baptize themselves, but to be baptized.  So, the hearers of Peter’s sermon are commanded to be baptized ‘for’ the forgiveness of sins. Baptism is something that will happen to them with the prepositional phrase attached to baptism.

Looking more closely at the prepositional phrase, ‘for the forgiveness of sins,’ one needs to ask the question, “What does the word ‘for’ indicate?” The word ‘for’ in the original Greek is the word εἰς. How should this be translated? A.T. Robertson argues in his work Word Pictures in the New Testament that the word εἰς can be translated ‘causally.’ Thus, Acts 2:38 can be read as, “be baptized . . . because of the forgiveness of sins.” This translation reverses the flow of the text, making the flow of the text go from ‘forgiveness of sins’ to ‘be baptized.’ This was also the stance taken by the grammarian J.R. Mantey. Both Robertson and Mantey take this stance arguing that faith is the point of forgiveness of sins and not baptism. [1]  So, is this word εἰς to be translated causally (i.e., because of)? According to Ralph Marcus it is not. It is rather to be translated in a way to show purpose, aim, and prospective. It is to be translated in a way to show movement from ‘be baptized’ to ‘the forgiveness of sins.’ Thus, a proper translation of εἰς would be ‘for’ or ‘into.’

Now, here is where the rubber meets the road. Who is right on the way to translate the word ‘εἰς’? Is it to be translated in a causal manner like the Baptist linguists state or should it be translated with aim, purpose, and prospective as argued by Ralph Marcus?  This three letter word may seem insignificant, but it is of utmost importance due to it being brought up in debates on this passage.  The meaning of this three letter word has drastic consequences. Daniel Wallace sheds light on this subject in his book, “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics,” saying,

Acts238Wallace_2 (537x330)

What does this mean?  Simply stated, J.R. Mantey was taken to task by Ralph Marcus. When the dust settled, Wallace concedes that Marcus, “ably demonstrated that the linguistic evidence for a casual εἰς fell short of proof.”  Now, what makes Wallace’s insights on this so valuable is that he makes this observation not from a Lutheran perspective.  Wallace  is not only the founder and executive director of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, but a former graduate of Biola University and a professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, a non-denominational Evangelical Seminary. Thus, it is reasonable to say that Wallace rejects translating εἰς in the causal sense not on the basis of a so-called bias Lutheran theological lens but on the basis of solid linguistic criteria. Keep in mind though that Wallace is not saying that baptism is essential for salvation but he does assert that the argument of translating εἰς as ‘because of’ is not linguistically feasible. All of this said, a proper rendering of Acts 2:38 is that Peter is calling forth for his hearers to repent and be baptized ‘for’ the forgiveness of sins, not ‘because.’

While the debates will continue on the issues of baptismal regeneration, the one clear thing is that Acts 2:38 shows that Peter is calling forth for his hearers to be baptized ‘for’ the forgiveness of sins. Yes, forgiveness of sins is connected to baptism, for the promise is for them and for their children and for all who are far off.

Is there forgiveness of sins in baptism? Yes, according to Acts 2:38 there is.

———————-

[1] Wayne Jackson, “Dallas Professor Rebuffs Common Quibble on “Eis”” https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/395-dallas-professor-rebuffs-common-quibble-on-eis (20 August 2013).






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  1. Abby
    September 3rd, 2013 at 01:34 | #1

    @Abby #33

    Vasily, I made a mistake at this post. There are 21 episodes, and the rest can be found on pages 8, 9, 10. Hope you will take a listen!

  2. Abby
    September 3rd, 2013 at 02:23 | #2

    “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Romans 10:10

  3. Vasily Sculley
    September 3rd, 2013 at 08:15 | #3

    @Abby #2
    Since the Bible DOES say both, why do we take it to be a dichotomy? The Bible declares justification from works AND faith.

    Would it not be more sensible to assume they go hand in hand?

  4. Abby
    September 3rd, 2013 at 13:22 | #4

    @Vasily Sculley #3

    Exactly my point. The Bible does say both. The dichotomy is usually placed on us by others. Because people misunderstand Luther’s teaching of “Grace Alone, Faith, Alone, and Scripture Alone,” ‘they’ like to label us “antinomians.” Which Luther vehemently opposed and fought to refute. There were some that were teaching that, but not him. Really, it is still the same old story that Jesus battled with the Pharisees and their use of the Law. They couldn’t hear His message either. Luther wrote “Against the Antinomians” to combat this false teaching.

    “The term “antinomianism” was coined by Martin Luther during the Reformation, to criticize extreme interpretations of the new Lutheran soteriology.The contemporary Evangelical theologian J. I. Packer states that Antinomianism “which means being anti-law, is a name for several views.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antinomianism

    “By the summer of that year, however, Luther had again become disturbed with the heterodoxy of Agricola’s views on the subject of the law, as revealed in three of his sermons published at that time, as well as in a set of anonymous theses that were circulating in the town, which Luther attributed to Agricola or his disciples. In these theses not only was Agricola’s old polemic against the preaching of the law repeated, but also explicit citations of errors on this topic were given from the writings of both Luther and Melanchthon. Their views, the theses boldly assert, amount to a distortion of the plain meaning of Scripture.6

    Luther, naturally, was incensed, and in two sermons preached in July and September, 1537, warned against both the theological error and the danger of moral laxity which he saw contained in the “Antinomian” position.”

    http://www.gracelutheranchurchglendora.org/Martin%20Luther/Vol%2047%20Antinomians.pdf

    http://www.lutheranpress.com/docs/ODE-prev-Ch1.pdf

    Whereas, what we really believe is Matthew 22:34-40: “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

    You can obey the Law with anger and pride (in your Law-keeping) in your heart. You can obey the Law from manipulation by others such as what the Pharisees liked to do to the Jewish people — Matthew 23:1-36. Jesus states a different emphasis: obey from Love.

    “When Luther raised his voice to describe Christian freedom in 1520, he joined a chorus of other medieval people who longed for change. Yet Luther’s message was unique and uniquely rooted in the teachings of Holy Scripture, especially St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Luther would call for freedom, but he would also call for a voluntary return to service. . . In 1508, his interest in freedom received a new focus. The last chapter of the Rule of St. Augustine, which Luther vowed to follow, focused on living as ‘free children under the liberty of grace.’” . . . [‘May our Lord grant that you, as lovers of spiritual beauty, may observe all these things through a motive of love, and become fragrant with the sweet odour of Christ by a holy conversation, not as slaves under the servitude of the Law, but as free children under the liberty of grace.’ (See Hugh of St. Victor, Explanation of the Rule of St. Augustine, translated by Dom Aloysius Smith)]

    http://www.cph.org/p-19300-christian-freedom-faith-working-through-love.aspx?SearchTerm=Christian Freedom

    Vasily, I married an Eastern Orthodox man. I was charismated and we were married in the Orthodox church. When the priest asked me what I was (LCMS Lutheran) he said, “No problem! We are sister churches!” I became Orthodox for awhile. I was asked to teach at the church (Sunday School – which surprised me since there was no Orthodox education for me upon joining – for all they knew I would have taught the kids Lutheranism!). I have family in the Orthodox church. I have attended many times over the years and have followed them with interest. I have gone to classes (that are now recently offered) and many church services. I have discussed issues with the priest. He likes to engage with me from time to time and I with him. One man in the congregation asked me what I was. I told him. He said, “Oh! We are closer to the Lutherans than the Roman Catholics!”

    The bottom line sticking point is: Justification by faith alone, by grace alone. According to the Orthodox Christ’s righteousness isn’t imputed to us in this lifetime. We are not “saved” in this lifetime. Christ’s death (atonement) on the Cross is not enough – by itself. Our “works” need to be “added” to it. The priest could not tell me that the forgiveness of sins offered by Christ – is enough. And yet, it is plainly and simply stated in all of Scripture.

    http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=30226

    The “Ladder” : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Climacus

    Yes, we do good works. Luther never diminished or eliminated that. But it is never “added” to the criteria for salvation. That is based on Christ’s work alone.

    If you are really interested in learning what we really believe and teach, get the copy of “Christian Freedom, Faith Working through Love,” – you might be very surprised to find out who we really are. If you are really interested. Another book you could pick up would be: http://www.cph.org/t-topic-catechism.aspx

    And if you are really serious, you can get and read through some of this (I can tell you love education): http://www.cph.org/p-11428-concordia-the-lutheran-confessions-a-readers-edition-of-the-book-of-concord-2nd-edition.aspx?SearchTerm=Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions

    There is much I respect in the Orthodox church. No, we can’t get together yet. But I would never say they are not Christian. And they do not say I am not Christian. Someday all this confusion and division will cease. You know when that will be. And I look forward to it.

  5. Abby
    September 3rd, 2013 at 13:56 | #5

    Pastor Richard, It may not sound like it, but even this long dissertation we have carried on with this Orthodox young man — seemingly still does go along with your original post. At least to me. (At least I can see the “links” in my own mind! :) )

  6. Abby
    September 3rd, 2013 at 19:56 | #6
  7. Vasily Sculley
    September 3rd, 2013 at 21:57 | #7

    @Abby #4
    Adding and subtracting are two different things. To say that they aren’t flies in the face of Scripture’s constant connection between works and forgiveness, remission, and justification.

    If a person cannot be justified without works, then a person cannot be saved without them. Faith and works are one and the same.

  8. Abby
    September 3rd, 2013 at 23:15 | #8

    @Vasily Sculley #7

    “If a person cannot be justified without works, then a person cannot be saved without them. Faith and works are one and the same.”

    “Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

    One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:32-43

    Try reading (Romans 4:1-8:39) — http://legacy.esvbible.org/search/Romans+4%3A1-8%3A39/

    — unless you feel absolutely certain and confident in your position and have no need to see what the Holy Spirit, through St. Paul, is telling us in this Holy Scripture. Unless Scripture is so flawed and unreliable as God’s Word (to you) because the God and Creator of the universe is NOT CAPABLE of getting His Word to us through people and time, exactly in the way that He wanted to. Then I wouldn’t blame you for not trusting this Word because it is put together by a God who is too small to be able to accomplish the writing of an inerrant and trustworthy Word and of the salvation of His people.

  9. Vasily Sculley
    September 4th, 2013 at 01:48 | #9

    @Abby #8
    What the Spirit tells us through Paul CANNOT contradict what the Spirit tells us through James.

    When James is telling us that Abraham WAS justified by works, and Paul is saying he was NOT justified by works, there are two options:

    1. One or the other is wrong, and thus the one or the other book should be excluded from Scripture by means of contradiction of the Scriptural inerrancy doctrine.

    2. The meaning of either “justification” or “works” is different between the two of them.

    Since Luther, who had a major bias against the book of James, still felt morally obligated to include it in his canon, we should assume that neither of us believe the first to be a viable option.

    Since there is no linguistic precedence to use the term “justified” as anything other than the primary meaning, and there is ample evidence that “works” has many different meanings, we can assume that the works they are speaking of are different types of works. Let us observe James, first:

    “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

    This, here, is the thesis statement which is to lead us into the “faith-works” discourse. It is here that he opens a new topic in his letter, flowing directly out of his discussion of the source of sin.
    It is obvious that his discourse will be extremely work-centric, but immediately thereafter, he describes the two first parts of the works HE is identifying:

    “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

    The first is basically, in context of prior passages, reining in our tongues and thinking before we speak. The second is taking care of those in need. The third is protecting oneself from sin.

    Of the three, only one is actually mentioned in the legal system of the Torah, and that is to family of those people, not in a general sense. Here, the command is given to look after orphans and widows, with no limitations to even what nationality they hold.

    In the next portion, he is forbidding favoritism.

    At this point, we have our discourse concerning Faith and Works.

    In context, with the fact that the ONLY works mentioned by James are works of philanthropy and self-control, we can assume that James was speaking of those types of works.

    We move to Romans. After his greeting, Paul discusses the wrath of God against sin, His lawful judgment, and then he moves directly into the types of works he spoke of in this passage in chapter two:

    “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.””

    While the works described in James are only tangently related to the Law, the works described in Romans are consistently those of the law.

    “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works?”

    Look at the description of works given in James, again:

    “keep a tight rein on their tongues”

    If a man were to do this, would he ever boast? NAY! Look at the Saints and martyrs. St. Moses the Black, when called to mediate a disagreement, brought with him two bags full of sand, roughly as large as two people. His simple statement brought the quarrel to an end: “For each grain of sand in these bags, I have committed a sin. How then do you wish for me to mediate for you, when it is beyond my ability to mediate for myself?”

    So, James is speaking of good works which are apart from the Law, and Paul speaks of works done according to the Law.

    “Is this not a law in and of itself?” you ask?

    Of course it is, because as slaves, we are still bound to our Master. It is not that we are working toward our salvation. We are neither working to salvation NOR from salvation.

    Nay, my friend. We work IN salvation. To those who work to salvation, the cross is foolishness. To those who work “from” salvation, the cross is behind them. To those who work IN salvation, the cross is upon us. For this reason we hang the image of the Cross from our necks, for we know that it is the Tree of Life, springing up with light, flowing from its one and only Fruit, picked from its branches 2000 years ago, placed in a borrowed tomb, and then springing forth with glorious life eternal, to those who will truly, and faithfully, follow Him.

    Now, one minute while I go shout praise to heaven, and then I will go to sleep.

  10. Abby
    September 4th, 2013 at 15:06 | #10

    @Vasily Sculley #9

    “Nay, my friend. We work IN salvation. To those who work to salvation, the cross is foolishness. To those who work “from” salvation, the cross is behind them. To those who work IN salvation, the cross is upon us. For this reason we hang the image of the Cross from our necks, for we know that it is the Tree of Life, springing up with light, flowing from its one and only Fruit, picked from its branches 2000 years ago, placed in a borrowed tomb, and then springing forth with glorious life eternal, to those who will truly, and faithfully, follow Him.”

    Now you have brought it to where we are. At the cross. I like the way you said that. And at both of our churches the cross is present in us with Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

    In our baptism we were “buried with Christ.” Romans 6:4 Our sins were washed away and we rise to new life. 1 Peter 3:18-22

    The Holy Eucharist also gives you forgiveness of sins and continued strength to live for Him. Matthew 26:26-29

    So, we go to church and receive God’s gifts. And when we leave we go out to love and serve Him and love and serve our neighbor. Everything is done from love. Including what is written in the Book of James. (Which I don’t see as contradictory to Grace at all.) James 1:17-18;2:12-13

    At one point St. Paul had to call St. Peter out in front of some others over Peter’s distancing himself from the Gentiles and siding with the “circumcision party.” Peter (and Barnabas) had become confused about the Gospel! Galatians 2:11-14

    And what did Peter say later? That sometimes Paul is hard to understand, but that we have to listen to him because he is telling the truth. And that some people would twist his words to “their own destruction.”

    “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:14-18

    Sometimes when we can’t understand something it might be a “paradox” : “This, then, is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox

    God has given us all we need to know in Scripture. It is enough for us. He gave us His Son. He gives us forgiveness for all of our sins. There is nothing I can add to that. I cannot merit the free gift that He gives. Though I fail daily, I try to love Him and others. He forgives my failures. But I can rest because I know that He loves me. And He will see me Home.

    God bless you, Vasily. Keep the faith.

  11. Vasily Sculley
    September 4th, 2013 at 23:36 | #11

    I think we’re just arguing semantics now…

    But hey, I think you got what I was saying.

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