What to Do With Acts 2:38 or Eis Eis Baptism

Written by Josiah Nichols

December 23, 2021

Man, Baptism, Faith, Religion, Symbol

Introduction

I grew up in an Independent Christian Church from the Stone-Campbell Restoration movement. For the past 190 years the movement as a whole has taught the heresy of baptismal regeneration.[1] This movement has led to many false converts and people trusting in their works to save them from sin.

The Argument

Those who teach this believe one has to repent and be baptized in order to be saved and given the gift of the Holy Spirit. They get this teaching from Acts 2:38, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (ESV). They also believe that one can lose their salvation even after being baptized. It really is the worst of all worlds.

Their argument is the Greek word for “for” is the word “εις”. They say the main meaning of εις is normally “in, into”. Since this word comes after “be baptized”, they claim the formula for salvation is to believe, repent, be baptized, and live a holy life.

The Problem

The problem with this is it flies in the face of the gospel of grace as best emphasized by Ephesians 2: 8 – 9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV). It also flies in the face of the soteriology in Acts. Luke continuously teaches salvation is through faith/repentance (Acts 3: 26 10: 43, 13:38 – 39, 15: 11, 16: 30 – 31, 20: 21, 26: 18). [2]

What to Do?

Christians know there are no contradictions in Scripture. When there is an apparent contradiction between two texts, the contradiction is only in the mind of the beholder. Interpreters should first doubt their understanding of the text before doubting the Scriptures. There must be another interpretation without mishandling the verse. There are actually several solutions to this misreading of the text.

Handling Eis

Todd Friel points out in his DVD It’s Not Greek To Me, “εις” does not always mean “in, into”. It has a rather large semantic range of meaning. It can mean: “into, in, toward, to, until, on up to, for, etc.”[3] The context surrounding this preposition determines the meaning. Todd Friel makes the point if one were to take a hard position all the time on εις meaning “into”, then one would have to believe the Ninevites repented “so that” Jonah would preach to them (Matthew 12: 41).[4]

While not every Greek scholar agrees with Todd Friel, there are three other ways of handling this text. Wallace provides three solutions, with the last two being the most promising to this conundrum.

First, the baptism here could be spiritual; though it does not fit with the normal usage of baptism in Acts.[5] That would make this heresy a fallacy of  “false assumptions of technical meaning”.[6] Second, the active imperative μετανοησατε is the main verb connected with εις, therefore, everything else, including βαπτισθητω, is subordinate to repentance.[7] Third, “the idea of baptism might incorporate both the spiritual reality and the physical symbol.”[8] In other words baptism was the place where one repented in the ancient Jewish world, confessing sins and forsaking them to follow God’s law; therefore, baptism was a picture of what already took place in the heart of the believer.[9]

Dealing With Baptism

I believe it is a combination of the last two interpretations and Todd Friel’s handling of εις. This means this is still a fallacy of “false assumptions of technical meaning”.[10] Since baptism is merely the witness to repentance, it is subordinate to repentance, just like forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

So, baptism is necessary for the Christian to do, but that is because the Christian is already saved by grace through repentant faith and has received the gift of the Holy Spirit. As one scholar put it, “Repentance leads to baptism, the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Spirit.”[11] This also makes sense with 1 Peter 3: 21 which says water baptism does not save but what it represents, “an appeal of a good conscience toward God”, does (ESV).

John MacArthur points out the Jewish history behind baptism to show how the early Church viewed the ordinance:

Tebula was immersion into water.  Having been circumcised, the Gentile proselyte was then immersed in water.  Why?  Because they said it identifies a Gentile as dying to the Gentile world.  The old life is dead, the old life apart from God, apart from the promises of God, apart from the knowledge of God, apart from the truth of God, that is dead and he comes forth a new person with a new life and a new family and a new relationship to the true God.  And so they said nothing illustrates that better than immersion, and so it was in proselyte Gentile immersion that baptism first appeared in redemptive history.[12]

 

In other words, baptism was the place where one repented. Confessed sins, forsook sins, placed trust in the promises of God, and joined the community of believers. This carried over into the church.

So, in Peter’s mind repentance and baptism were immensely linked. It did not mean the washing of water saved the believer. The blood of Jesus and election saved the believer, “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2: 39, ESV). The proper response is repentant faith, which God saves through, as shown in baptism.

Conclusion

The belief water baptism saves people is not represented in Acts 2:38. Rather, it teaches repentance is the proper response to salvation, demonstrated in baptism, because of the sovereign grace of God (Acts 2:38 – 39). As Justin Peters points out, repentance is necessary for salvation, but it is not a work because God is the one who grants repentance (Acts 5:30-31, 11:17-18, 2 Timothy 2:24-25).[13]

If you want to dive deeper in your understanding in biblical interpretation, check out the resources section at strivingforeternity.org/store. There are tons of biblical resources to help you grow in your faith. Lord bless you.

[1] Henry E. Webb, In Search of Christian Unity: A History of the Reformation Movement, (Abilene, Texas, ACU Press, 2003). 115.

[2]  Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan. 1996). 370.

[3] Fredrick William Danker, A Greek – English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois, The University of Chicago Press, 1979). 288 – 291.

[4] It’s Not Greek to Me: 10 Lessons in Greek, Directed by Todd Friel (First Run Features, 2014), DVD, (Gospel Partners Media), 2014.

[5] Full Ibid.

[6] D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Books, 1996).

45.

[7] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan. 1996). 370.

[8] Ibid. 370 – 371.

[9] Full Ibid.

[10] D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Books, 1996). 45.

[11] John B. Polhill, Acts, Vol. 26. of The New American Commentary, (Nashville, Tennessee, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992). 117.

[12] John MacArthur, “Understanding Baptism”, Grace to You, (January 29, 1989). https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/80-57/understanding-baptism, Accessed November 26, 2021

[13] Justin Peters, “Justin Peter’s Full Testimony”, Justin Peters Ministries, https://justinpeters.org/justin-peters-testimony-conversion/, Accessed November 26, 2021.

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