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BAPTISM FOR REMISSION

By Rosco Brong

 

BELIEVERS WITH SINS ALREADY REMITTED

ARE COMMANDED TO BE BAPTIZED

 

"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38).

 For more than a thousand years before Alexander Campbell mismated the Baptist doctrine of believersí immersion with the Catholic doctrine of so-called baptismal regeneration, most of the heretics of Christendom were perverting this text and a few others in supposed support of the delusion that remission of sins may be obtained through the waters of baptism, or through the waters of pouring or sprinkling as substitutes for baptism.

The idea did not originate with Campbell: he was wise enough to recognize that Baptists were right in their insistence on immersion of believers; but with his Presbyterian background he was foolish enough to stay with the Catholic tradition that baptism (or, for most Catholics in recent centuries, affusion) is necessary to salvation.

 THE PROBLEM

Were it not for this widespread heresy of long standing, comparatively few readers would misunderstand our text, or other texts that have been given a perverted interpretation by advocates of baptismal regeneration; and any such misunderstanding would be quickly cleared up as the reader examined the text in light of context. But when readers bring preconceived heresies to their reading, it is harder for them to see the simple truth.

Surely, it is obvious enough to any open mind that if this text teaches the Catholic-Campbellite doctrine that baptism is a condition precedent to the remission of sins, then the Bible is in hopeless contradiction with itself and we have no reliable textbook from which to derive Christian doctrine. If the Bible is a book of contradictions, we have no reasonable ground of any Christian faith. This is the problem raised by the contradictory doctrines of various Christian or so-called Christian sects: are they really Biblical contradictions, or merely contradictions of interpretation?

 LANGUAGE INTERPRETATION

Judicial interpretation and (mostly) misinterpretation of the United States Constitution, exhibiting staggering contradictions in less than 200 years, may serve as an example of how lawyers, political and religious, can twist and befog language that was clear enough before it got hid behind their interpretations.

Baptists, at least old-fashioned Baptists, believe that the Bible is Godís guidebook for His people, written to make His way so clear that "the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein" (Isa. 35:8).

The most controversial point in Acts 2:38 is a prepositional phrase, "for the remission of sins," as it reads in the King James version, or "unto the remission of your sins," as in the American Standard version. Either reading involves interpretation by the translators and requires further interpretation in English.

First then, it is debatable whether this phrase modifies only the verb "repent," only the verb "be baptized," or both---not to mention one or two other possible syntactical interpretations. I merely note the difficulty: we need not worry about it; we can get the truth clearly enough from other texts.

As to the preposition "for" or "unto" (Greek eis), again the meaning is ambiguous. "For" can mean "in order to," as when a man works "for" pay that he expects to receive later; but it can also mean "because of," as when he receives pay "for" work already done. Likewise "unto" may have either a past or future reference, relating either an addition to something already had or an attainment to something else.

Properly translating in contextual agreement with New Testament language and teaching, Acts 2:38 may be read as follows: "And Peter said to them, Repent ye, and each of you be baptized upon the name of Jesus Christ because of remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

 WHY "BECAUSE OF"?

"Because of" is not the most usual translation of the Greek preposition eis. Many prepositions, Greek and English, are used to express various relationships. For example, look up the words "to," "in," "on," and "for" in a large English dictionary. This has been an instructive exercise even for some college students.

Youngís concordance lists a dozen different translations of eis in the King James version, then adds "etc." The good English bishops, whose creed teaches baptismal regeneration, avoided the translation "because of," but it fits excellently in several passages.

Three times in Matthew 10:41, 42 eis is rendered "in"---"in the name." Obviously this means "because of the name"; in fact it is so explained in Mark 9:41, though there the preposition used is en.

The Ninevites "repented at (eis) the preaching of Jonas" (Matt. 11:41); that is, of course, because of the preaching of Jonas.

"Wherefore didst thou doubt?" asked Jesus in Matthew 14:31. "Wherefore," meaning "why," is the King James rendering of two Greek words, eis ti, which could be translated literally, "Because of what?"

So it is evident that "because of" is a legitimate translation of eis if it can be justified from context, and the New Testament context makes this the best possible translation in Acts 2:38.

 JOHNíS BAPTISM

From John 1:40-42 and Acts 1:20-22 it is clear that Peter was thoroughly familiar with the baptism and doctrine of John the Baptist. There is no reason to imagine that the apostle would suddenly announce a new and revolutionary doctrine of baptism, and especially in such ambiguous language.

Johnís baptism manifestly was not announced as a means of obtaining remission of sins. On the contrary, John demanded that candidates for his baptism whose sincerity he doubted bring forth "fruits worthy of repentance" (Luke 3:8). He baptized "in water unto (eis) repentance" (Matt. 3:11); that is, because of repentance already exercised and proved by worthy fruits, as appears in the preceding verses.

Mark tells us that John preached "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (1:4). This means that the baptism was the result of repentance. If we relate "for (eis) the remission of sins" to the word "repentance," then "for" may mean "in order to"; if we relate the phrase to the word "baptism," then "for" must mean "because of" to harmonize with context.

No honest reader, surely, will accuse the first Baptist of being a ritualist. Peter had learned of John through Andrew to follow Jesus (John 1:35-42), and we can be sure that they have the same doctrine of baptism.

 CHRISTíS BAPTISM

Johnís baptism was Christís baptism. This truth is so important that it is recorded in all four gospels (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21, 22; John 1:29-34). To say that Johnís baptism was not Christian baptism is to say that Christ did not have Christian baptism. How ridiculous can you get?

When Christ received baptism from John the Baptist, He demonstrated once for all that baptism is not in order to the remission of sins, since Christ had no sins to be remitted. But "thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:15). That is, baptism is a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ; and in that death, burial and resurrection all righteousness is fulfilled.

 APOSTOLIC AGREEMENT

Moreover, the apostles continued the practice of baptism according to the original order, for we read, "Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples)" (John 4:1-2). That is, it was through the ministry of His disciples that He "made and baptized more disciples than John." Notice: they made disciples first, and then they baptized them. This is always the scriptural order.

Read I Corinthians 1:12-17 to see how completely the apostle Paul subordinated the ordinance of baptism to the preaching of the gospel. Though baptism symbolizes the gospel, it is in itself no part of the gospel, as appears in the words "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel."

Paul likewise identified his baptism with that of John the Baptist when he found at Ephesus a dozen disciples who claimed, no doubt sincerely, that they had Johnís baptism, but who had never heard Johnís message. Of course, a mere form of baptism, administered by unauthorized persons who lack the scriptural message conveyed in true baptism, is of no value. When Paul informed these imperfectly taught disciples of Johnís true message, they proved their faith by being baptized "in the name," that is, by the authority, "of the Lord Jesus" (See Acts 19:1-7).

 


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