WITH SINS ALREADY REMITTED
COMMANDED TO BE BAPTIZED
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).
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.
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
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
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 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.
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).
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.
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
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
Ninevites "repented at (eis) the preaching of
Jonas" (Matt. 11:41); that is, of course, because
of the preaching of Jonas.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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."
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