Acts 2:38, Baptism and Remission of Sins

William Arnold III

(original article: A Commentary on the Book of Colossians)


You reference Acts 2:38 in your commentary on Col. 2:11 as an example of water baptism being attriubted to the remission of sins. Grammatically, if grammar means anything, for baptism to be associated with resmission of sins in Acts 2:38 is incorrect. Peter would have been telling each singular person to come up and be baptized for the remission of sins of the entire group being addressed. Remission is tied to repentance in Acts 2:38. Please do NOT take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. Check out Greek scholarship on the grammar of Acts 2:38. Baptism is awesome and obedient to scripture but it is the blood of Jesus Christ that remits sin. Surely you don't think the water literally changes to blood (like the RCC believes the wine does at communion) at baptism. Remember, in Acts chapter 10 that the group at Cornelius' house were filled with the Spirit (even spoke in tongues) before they were water baptized. The holy spirit can not occupy a sin filled temple, so I think you would have to agree that their sins were already washed away! They were commanded to be baptized because that is the first thing all of
us should do as believers.


Concerning Acts 2:38, the grammar actually requires that Peter is saying be baptized "for" the remission of sins. The use of the preposition eis demands this meaning. Concerning this specific verse, BAGD, the most authoritative Greek lexicon in English says, "to denote purpose / in order to, to . . . for forgiveness of sins, so that sins might be forgiven Mt 26:28; cf. Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3; Ac 2:38."1

Seeing the plain implications of this passage, some scholars have jumped through hoops to try and explain it away. Once again I call attention to Wallace's highly acclaimed Greek grammar. Wallace (who does not believe baptism is essential) has a discussion about this verse specifically under his treatment of the preposition eis:

An interesting discussion over the force of eis took place several years ago, especially in relation to Acts 2:38. . . . J. R. Manty argued that eis could be used causally [which would mean baptism "because of" remission of sins] in various passages in the NT, among them Matt 3:11 and Acts 2:38. . . . On the other hand, Ralph Marcus questioned Mantey's nonbiblical examples of a causal eis so that in his second of two rejoinders he concluded (after a blow-by-blow refutation): 'It is quite possible that eis is used causally in the NT passages but the examples of causal eis cited from non-biblical Greek contribute absolutely nothing to making this possibility a probability. If, therefore, Professor Mantey is right in his interpretation of various NT passages on baptism and repentance and the remission of sins, he is right for reasons that are non-linguistic.' Marcus ably demonstrated that the linguistic evidence for a causal eis fell short of proof. . . . adjusting the grammar to answer a backward-looking 'Why?' has no more basis than the notion that anti ever meant mere representation (see prior discussion).2

He also discusses the shift from second person plural to third person singular and then back, which you mentioned.

But notice even some other passages: "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16); "baptism now saves you" (1 Peter 3:21); "He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5, NET, see also John 3:3-5). Coupled with Acts 2:38, these passages clearly connect baptism with the remission of sins and even with salvation.


1. Walter Bauer, William Ardnt, F. Wilbur Gingrich and Fredrick Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1979. <back>
2. Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, p. 369-371. <back>

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