In Acts 2:38 Peter told a crowd of people, “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.” The question we will consider today is this: Was Peter telling the people to be baptized in order to be forgiven or was he telling them to be baptized because they were already forgiven?
The Preposition “Eis”
The word translated “for” in Acts 2:38 is the Greek word “eis.” Two scholars, A.T. Robertson and J.R. Mantey, have argued that in this passage the word “eis” means, “because.” They argued that Peter was telling the crowd, “Repent and be baptized because of the forgiveness of your sins.” In other words, be baptized in order to show that your sins have already been forgiven.
The problem with Robertson and Mantey’s argument is that the word “eis” simply does NOT mean, “because of.” It doesn’t mean that in this passage…or in any passage. It often has the following meanings:
It is used over 1,700 times in the New Testament and it shows movement toward a goal. It indicates purpose. The popular site, GotQuestions.org falsely claims that Matthew 12:41 proves “eis” can mean “because.” Matthew 12:41 says: “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”
In this passage, “eis” is translated “at.” But it doesn’t mean “because” it means “at the point of” or “when.” The people of Nineveh repented “when” Jonah preached to them. Jesus is saying the current generation would be condemned by the people of Nineveh because (Greek “hoti”) the people of Nineveh repented at the point of (“eis”) Jonah’s preaching.
The word “eis” never ever means “because” in the New Testament. That’s simply not how the word was used. Those who claim otherwise are twisting the word to fit their preconceived theological ideas.
For the Forgiveness of Sins
In fact, there is another time the exact phrase, “for the forgiveness of sins” appears in the New Testament. In Matthew 26:27-28, Jesus says:
“And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”
Did you catch that? Jesus said His blood would be poured out “for the forgiveness of sins.” Could He have meant that His blood was poured out “because” sins had already been forgiven? Could He have meant He was going to die as an outward sign that sins were forgiven without His blood? Surely that conclusion is preposterous!
If the Greek phrase in Matthew 26:28 means “in order for sins to be forgiven” then why doesn’t the exact same phrase in Acts 2:38 mean the same thing? The truth is, it does mean the same thing.
How It is Translated
Though many preachers, pastors, teachers, and commentators continue to argue for “because of” in Acts 2:38, it seems that translators of the Bible are almost always scholarly enough to treat the text well. Consider all of these translations:
- ESV – “for the forgiveness of your sins”
- NIV – “for the forgiveness of your sins”
- KJV – “for the remission of sins”
- NASB – “for the forgiveness of your sins”
Even many of the paraphrase Bibles do not accept the “because of” argument:
- MSG – “be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven.”
- NLT – “for the forgiveness of your sins”
- ERV – “be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ. Then God will forgive your sins”
- CEV – “so that your sins will be forgiven”
It is simply NOT accurate to say Acts 2:38 means, “because of the forgiveness of your sins.” There may be some fringe translation somewhere that translates it that way, but I don’t know what translation that would be. Every reputable Bible I have ever seen makes the point clear, sins are forgiven at the point of baptism.
Peter was NOT teaching, nor am I teaching, that a person is saved by works and not by grace. Baptism does NOT merit salvation. Baptism is simply the point at which Jesus saves us. It is the point at which we are “united with” His saving work (Romans 6:1-7). It is the point at which we are resurrected from our state of spiritual deadness (Colossians 2:12).
Baptism is a penitent appeal of faith for the forgiveness of our sins (see 1 Peter 3:21). It is saying to God, “I trust you. I surrender to you. I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I believe He will wash my sins away and raise me from the dead.”
None of that contradicts the idea that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). We are saved totally by grace and totally by faith when we repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
I love you and God loves you.
Wes McAdams Radically Christian Blog October 11, 2017