Then Peter said to them, “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 NKJV
There is an old joke, told by Baptists and others, of a country Church of Christ. Just behind the church building was a frog pond. Because they heard it so much, instead of saying “ribbit,” the frogs would croak, “Acts 2:38.”
Acts 2:38 is a favorite among those who believe you must be baptized to be saved. Baptists and many others, of course, believe baptism is a symbol or picture of salvation, but is not a part of salvation. I thought it might be helpful to give a few outstanding quotes on Acts 2:38 from various authors:
Warren W. Wiersbe
“It is unfortunate that the translation of Acts 2:38 in the King James Version suggests that people must be baptized in order to be saved, because this is not what the Bible teaches. The Greek word eis (which is translated ‘for’ in the phrase ‘for the remission of sins’) can mean ‘on account of’ or ‘on the basis of.’ In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist baptized on the basis that people had repented. Acts 2:38 should not be used to teach salvation by baptism. If baptism is essential for salvation, it seems strange that Peter said nothing about baptism in his other sermons (Acts 3:12-26; 5:29-32; 10:34-43). In fact, the people in the home of Cornelius received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized (Acts 10:44-48)! Since believers are commanded to be baptized, it is important that we have a clean conscience by obeying (1 Peter 3:21), but we must not think that baptism is a part of salvation. If so, then nobody in Hebrews 11 was saved, because none of them was ever baptized.” -Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Commentary, David C. Cook; 2003.
John R. Rice
“It is clear from the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15[-16] and the universal practice of New Testament Christians, that converts ought to be baptized. Baptism was not essential to salvation, but it was essential and is essential to obedience. Baptism did not procure salvation, but it declared salvation one had already received.
Since many Scriptures expressly declare that one who trusts in Christ for salvation instantly has everlasting life (John 3:15,16,18,36; John 5:24; John 6:47; Acts 13:38-39), then the one who has trusted Christ is immediately saved and the baptism which followed could only declare that which had already occurred.
Baptism is a work of righteousness (as Jesus stated in Matthew 3:15). But Titus 3:5 declares, ‘Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.’ Salvation is ‘not of works, lest any man should boast’ (Ephesians 2:9. (See the author’s book, Bible Baptism, Sword of the Lord.)
Jesus never needed to repent. He could not repent as our example. Jesus never was in unbelief and never needed to come trusting for forgiveness. He needed no forgiveness. If baptism were a way of securing salvation, then Jesus could not be our example in baptism. But since baptism is a token of heart surrender to the soul-saving work of the Lord and pointing toward the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, then Christ could be our example in baptism. So He was baptized and immediately the Holy Spirit came on Him in an anointing for His ministry and so we may be baptized like Christ and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, as Acts 2:38 says.” -John R. Rice, Filled With the Spirit, The Book of Acts: A Verse-by-Verse Commentary, Sword of the Lord; 1963, 1973.
“Unfortunately, some read the verse [Acts 2:38] to mean that obedience to the act of baptism somehow brings about salvation. But neither this verse, nor the New Testament as a whole, assigns saving efficacy to the waters of baptism. The misunderstood term in the verse is the preposition ‘for’ in the expression ‘for the remission of sins.’ This preposition has various nuances in English. If you were asked, for example, ‘Did you go to the store for your wife?’ there are several conceivable meanings. Did you go to a store to select your wife? Or did she, as your wife, call from the store for you to come and get her? Or did she simply request that you go to the store in her place and fetch a loaf of bread?
The Greek preposition eis, translated here as ‘for,’ also has numerous nuances. Does the verse mean that a person is to repent and to be baptized for (i.e., in order to obtain) forgiveness of sin? Or does the verse mean that forgiveness of sin is the provision that leads to repentance? Then the word ‘for’ would be read ‘repent and let everyone of you be Baptized for (i.e., because of) the remission of sins already fully provided by Christ on the cross.’ This last sense is the proper understanding. For example, in Matthew 12:41, the men of Nineveh are said to have repented ‘at (in Greek the same word eis) the preaching of Jonah.’ They repented because of the preaching of the prophet! In the same way, because of the atonement of Jesus, all are called to repent and to follow Jesus in baptism.” -Paige Patterson, What Is Baptism?, Seminary Hill Press, SWBTS; 2011.
John B. Polhill
“The connection of baptism with the forgiveness of sins in v. 38 [Acts 2:38] has often been a matter of controversy. A literal rendering of the verse runs: ‘Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for/on the basis of the forgiveness of your sins.’ The disputed word is the preposition eis, which could indicate purpose and thus be taken to mean that baptism is the prerequisite for the forgiveness of sins. There is ample evidence in the New Testament, however, that eis can also mean on the ground of, on the basis of, which would indicate the opposite relationship – that the forgiveness of sins is the basis, the grounds for being baptized. Perhaps more significant, however, is that the usual connection of the forgiveness of sins in Luke-Acts is with repentance and not with baptism at all (cf. Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19; 5:31). In fact, in no other passage of Acts is baptism presented as bringing about the forgiveness of sins. If not linked with repentance, forgiveness is connected with faith (cf. Acts 10:43; 13:38f.; 26:18). The dominant idea in [Acts] 2:38 thus seems to be repentance, with the other elements following. Repentance leads to baptism, the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Spirit. The essential response Peter called from the Jewish crowd is the complete turnabout that comprises true repentance, to turn away from their rejection of the Messiah and to call upon his name, receive baptism into his community, and share the gift of the Spirit they had just witnessed so powerfully at work in the Christians at Pentecost. Peter concluded his appeal with a promise, the promise of Joel 2:32 (cf. v. 21): ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ The universal scope of the promise is emphasized. Salvation is not only for the group of Jews present at Pentecost but for future generations (‘your children’) as well. It is not only for Jews but for Gentiles, for those ‘who are far off.’ -John B. Polhill, Acts, The New American Commentary, Broadman Press (B&H); 1992.
Bob L. Ross
“Only a baptismal remissionist thinks that Acts 2:38 means a literal baptismal remission. The evangelical, holding that literal remission came in the death of Christ, and that experimental remission comes by faith (Acts 10:43), stands on the ground that the only remission to be found in baptism is a declarative, ceremonial, representative one – the same sense as the body and blood of Christ are in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.” -Bob L. Ross, Acts 2:38 and Baptismal Remission, Pilgrim Publications, Pasadena, TX; 1976, 1987.
J. B. Jeter
“That baptism is for the remission of sins none will deny. But the import of the passage turns on the force of the term ‘for.’ In Greek the preposition eis is used. Every scholar knows, and every intelligent reader may learn from unquestionable authority, that it bears in the New Testament various meanings. It is sometimes, but rarely, rendered for, in the sense of, ‘in order to.’ Its usual rendering is into. A regard to the context, the sense of the passage, and other considerations, must determine its import in any particular place. It is only necessary to show that on sound principles of hermeneutics, it may be fairly understood in harmony with what I have endeavored to prove is the plain doctrine of the Scriptures, and this can easily be done.
In Matthew 3:11, we have these words – ‘I indeed baptize you with water unto (eis) repentance.’ Here the term cannot without gross impropriety be rendered for, or in order to. We know that John did not baptize his disciples in order that they might repent. He demanded of them not only repentance, but fruits meet for repentance, before he admitted them to baptism. He baptized them, not that they might obtain repentance, but as a sign, or acknowledgment that they had repented. Matthew 3:8-9.
Now, in the very sense in which the Harbinger baptized his disciples (eis) unto, for, into repentance, did Peter command his Pentecostal hearers to be baptized (eis) for, unto, into the remission of sins – that is, not to procure, but as a sign, or acknowledgment of, this privilege, which God has graciously and inseparably united with repentance and faith. I could produce many similar examples, but this will suffice to show how fairly the passage harmonizes with the symbolic theory of baptism.” -J. B. Jeter, Campbellism Examined, Sheldon, Lamport, & Blakeman; 1855. Jeter (AD 1802-1880) was a Baptist Pastor, author, and editor of the Religious Herald, Virginia.
B. H. Carroll
“We will now consider a frequent meaning of eis, also determined by local context, in the following still more pertinent passage, for in it we have the verb, baptize, as well as the preposition, eis (Matt. 3:11): ‘I indeed baptize you in water eis repentance.’ All the context shows that John required repentance, and even its fruits, as a condition precedent to baptism. It would be foolish to render it, ‘I baptize you in order to repentance.’ Here the preposition has not its ordinary meaning, in order to, nor its rare meaning, because of, but its frequent meaning, with reference to – a repentance that they had exercised. ‘I baptize you with reference to that exercising of it,’ is what John means. Or, as Tyndale, in his version (it was a very fine version for his time) says, ‘I baptize you in token of repentance.’ That makes fine sense…
We may apply the ad hominern argument to our Campbellite brethren. They evade the many cases of remission through faith and without baptism, in the life of our Lord, by saying, ‘The law of pardon was not given till Pentecost.’ How, then, do they dispose of Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3, paralleling remission under the preaching of John the Baptist with the preaching of Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2:38? John baptized eis aphesin hamartion, exactly paralleling what Peter did in Acts 2:38. Then, briefly, the meaning of eis in Acts 2:38 is this: Repent ye – plural, and a strong imperative – ‘and let every one of you who has repented be baptized’ – a mild imperative – ‘in the name of Jesus Christ eis aphesin hamartion’ – with reference to remission of sins.” -B. H. Carroll (AD 1843-1914), An Interpretation of the English Bible, Broadman Press; 1948.
B. H. Carroll has an excellent, extensive discussion of Acts 2:38 in his An Interpretation of the English Bible, Edited by J. B. Cranfill, Broadman; 1948. It is available both in book form and on the internet.
To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins. -Peter; Acts 10:43
-David R. Brumbelow, gulfcoastpastor.blogspot.com, August 12, AD 2019.
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