Question from a Site Viewer
I am writing in regards to your explanation of “eis” in Acts 2:38. This is the same preposition used in Matthew 26:28; Mark 1:3,4; Luke 3:3 and 24:47 (in the four oldest Greek manuscripts) and is the same expression “eis aphesin hamartian” meaning “for or with a view to dismissal of sins. If eis means “because of” in Acts 2:38 then it must also in the other verses. Jesus certainly did not shed his blood because we already received remission (dismissal) of our sins before he died and shed his blood for us. Neither did John the Immerser proclaim an immersion of repentance (change of mind) because we already received remission of sins. Nor did Jesus tell His disciples that they were to proclaim repentance because of remission of sins in His name. You need to compare apples to apples not apples to oranges. Generally “eis” can be translated “because of” only if another greek word (tis) is present.
Salvation begins at repentance and faith in Jesus Chris but does not stop there. Paul did not leave 99% of converts unbaptized. He baptized some but if many became saved he would have had help as he almost always had traveling companions.
Search on Google under “baptism for forgiveness or remission of sins.” Your argument has been discussed and shown to be weighed and found wanting.
You raise a good question of how one should translate “eis” in Acts 2:38. To answer this question, one must ask the question: What process does one use to determine the meaning to give to a word? One needs a process that is divorced from one’s particular theological bent. Otherwise, Scripture ceases to speak to us because we cause Scripture to mean what we want it to mean. I would argue that one first must develop a standard for determining meaning and then apply that standard consistently throughout the translation of Scripture.
Here is my standard that I attempt to apply. Every word has a field of meaning with a core meaning and more remote meanings relating to that core. I believe one should always take the core meaning of the word and apply it to the text. If that meaning makes sense in the text, then there is a strong argument for accepting that meaning. If that meaning does not make sense in the text, then I am willing to consider other more remote meanings within the field of meaning, going from the most common down to the less common, until I find a meaning that makes sense. I will look at all of the meanings, but my practice is to move towards a more common meaning and away from more remote meanings, whenever possible.
At the same time, I am concerned that the meaning fit the context of the passage and the theology of the writer and secondarily of the greater Scripture. Thus, even as you demonstrated, similar phrases are found elsewhere in the New Testament, including by the same author. These certainly must be examined to see if they shed any light on the meaning in this passage. The weight of context will sometimes lead me to choose a lesser used meaning (from within the field of meaning) over a more common meaning.
And before I begin, if the following appears to look like a mathematical proof, I hope that you will forgive me. I do not intent it to be so, but rather an explanation of what drives me to my interpretation of Acts 2:38. It is my drive to interpret Scripture consistently and my desire to do so with the best effort I can make to understand what the human authors and God originally intended.
Here, we have a Greek word “eis.” This was a widely used Greek preposition (used 1768 times in New Testament), with an origin probably originally stemming from the Greek preposition “en” and shares much in common meaning with that preposition, although there are distinctions between the two in the Greek New Testament. Today, in modern Greek, “en” has disappeared and “eis” has fully taken over its function. The root meaning of “eis” is the concept of “into,” being associated with a place one went into. However, it had developed a field of meaning when used farther afield from its root idea of moving into a place.
If we look at the standard lexicons and grammars, we can determine linguistically its field of meaning. In Liddell & Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, the standard lexicon for classical Greek, we find the following uses of the word:
- Of place (“into,” “to,” less commonly “before,” “upon,” “for”)
- Of time (“up to,” “until,” “near,” “for,” “with”)
- To express measure or limit (“as far as,” “as much as,” “so far as,” “about,” “by”)
- To express relation (“towards,” “in regard to”)
- Of an end or limit, including the idea of purpose or object (“in,” “into,” “for,” “to the purpose”)
In Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, the standard lexicon for biblical Greek and early Christian writings, we find the following meanings of the word:
- Of place (“into,” “in,” “toward,” “to,” “among,” “near,” “to,” “on,” “toward”)
- Of time (“to,” “until,” “for,” “on,” “in,” “for,” “throughout”)
- To indicate degree (“to,” “completely,” “fully”)
- To indicate the goal, including to show the result or purpose (“unto,” “to,” “against,” “in,” “for,” “into,” “to,” “so that,” “in order to,” “for”)
- To denote reference to a person or thing (“for,” “to,” “with respect” or “reference to”)
- Some more minor uses.
In Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament; Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, and Dana & Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, we find very similar meanings.
This survey allows us to find the field of meaning for the word “eis.” Now, if we look at the probable meaning of the word in this place, we quickly find ourselves sliding down the list. “Forgiveness of sins” is not a place, nor is it time. It is not a measure or degree. It may express relation or purpose. These appear to be our available options.
However, the field of meaning is always developed by a survey of usage of the term. Dr. Nigel Turner, in Dr. Moulton’s Grammar of the New Testament Greek, Vol. III, agrees with Mantey that “eis” in the New Testament “has the Semitic causal sense, “eis” being the Hebrew [lamed].” Page 255. In Hebrew grammar, “lamed” frequently is causative. There are many who take issue with him, but I do not think they provide a convincing case.
Without going through this exhaustively, I will direct your attention to one New Testament text found in the writings of our author here, Luke. Both in Matthew 12:41 and in Luke 11:32, we have the words of Jesus recorded. Jesus probably spoke in Aramaic, but Luke uses Greek to record what Jesus said. And he uses “eis” in a causative sense. He quotes Jesus as saying that the people of Nineveh repented “eis” the preaching of Jonah and a greater one than Jonah was now here. I think readers would naturally interpret the passage to be that the inhabitants of Nineveh repented because of the teaching of Jonah. That is, God used Jonah’s preaching as at least an indirect cause to bring about the repentance of Nineveh.
If we try to fit this passage into the field of meaning we find in the standard lexicons and grammars above, we run into difficulties. Preaching is not a place, or time; nor is it a measure or degree. They certainly did not repent with a result or purpose leading to Jonah’s preaching. Rather, it is the opposite; namely, the purpose or result of the preaching (at least from God’s point of view) was to lead them to repentance. And stating that “eis” is used in a relational or reference meaning does not solve the problem. Because, then one asks: “What is the nature of the relationship or how does repentance relate to the preaching?” And this brings us back to the causative sense. Almost anyone reading the passage would conclude that they repented, at least in some causal sense, because of the preaching of Jonah. I find the argument of J. R. Mantey on this point convincing.
Once I reach this conclusion, I am left admitting that, at least for Matthew and Luke, the field of meaning for “eis” includes a causative sense.
Mantey then turns to Matt. 3:11 where John the Baptist stated that he baptized “eis” repentance. Mantey asks the question whether John baptized so that they might repent, or because of repentance. He notes that if it is the former, there is no further Scriptural confirmation of such practice. None of the other passages on baptism state that its purpose is to bring repentance. In Acts 2:38, repentance and baptism are listed as separate matters that “eis” forgiveness of sins.
But Scripture does not simply leave me with this question. Both the gospel writer Mark and the gospel writer Luke comment on this statement by John the Baptist. In both Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3, the authors state that John preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In both places, the authors are not quoting John, but rather explaining to us what John was preaching. And, for our purposes, most notably they do not link baptism and repentance with the preposition “eis.” Rather, they place the noun “repentance” in the genitive case. In Greek, there are eight cases of nouns that allows one to determine how the noun fits within the structure of the sentence. Because the noun “repentance” derives from the verb “repent,” it is considered to be a noun of action. In Greek, nouns of action in the genitive may either be translated as a subjective genitive; that is the noun causes the action, or an objective genitive; that is, the noun receives the action. In Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3, it is either repentance “causes” the baptism or baptism “causes” the repentance. These are the two choices for interpretation.
Because the grammar does not give a preference to either a subjective or objective usage in this passage, I turn to the context to see which of these meanings is the one most likely that the author intended. When I look at the writings of Luke to see how he sees this relationship, I am left with the stark conclusion that Luke never sees baptism as preceding or driving repentance. He always sees the turn of the person as bringing about the baptism. (See Acts 2:41 – those who received his word were baptized; Acts 8:12 & 13 – when they believed they were baptized; Acts 8:36-38 – if you believe you may be baptized; Acts 9:4-18 – Paul’s conversion and subsequent baptism; Acts 10:47 – Cornelius and those in his house received the Holy Spirit and were baptized; Acts 15:14-15 – Lydia’s heart was first opened and then she was baptized; Acts 16:33-34 – the passage is ambiguous as to whether belief or baptism came first, there is no clear linkage in time; Acts 18:8 – Crispus and his household believed and many of the Corinthians were believing and being baptized; Acts 19:1-5 – those who were already disciples were baptized.
With this context from Luke’s own writing, I am led to choose the subjective genitive meaning over the objective genitive meaning. That is, there is much to support a view that Luke saw the relationship between baptism and repentance as repentance doing the action which then permits the baptism. There is nothing in Luke 3 or elsewhere in Luke’s writings that would support an objective genitive meaning; that is, that baptism caused the repentance.”
I reach the same conclusion with respect to Mark’s intended meaning. I do not expect that Mark had an opposite meaning using the identical phrase in the identical context.
Based upon all of the above, I read both Mark and Luke as stating that John baptized because of repentance. I take their reading of what John said as my instruction for how I should read Matthew 3:11. And because Matthew has elsewhere used “eis” in a causative sense (see Matt. 12:41 discussed above), his usage here is not an anomaly.
Professor Mantey points out that the causative meaning here is also supported by the testimony of Josephus. Josephus was not a Christian, but he does provide us an historical account of that time and his testimony cannot be easily dismissed. He states:
Who (John) was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing (with water) would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away of some sins, but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.
Antiquities of the Jews, bk 18, ch. 5, sec. 2.
Yet, now having established that the words “baptizo . . . eis ______” should be read as having a causative “because of” meaning in Matthew 3:11, I am not inclined to think that Mark (Mark 1:4) and Luke (Luke 3:3) have switched to a different meaning for the word in a similar phrase involving the same context of John’s baptism. The phrase “baptisma metanoias eis aphesin amartion” (“baptism because of repentance ‘eis’ forgiveness of sins”) found in Mark and Luke is closely linked to the idea “baptizo . . . eis metanoian” found in Matthew both in its grammatical structure and in its context. The only difference is that in Matthew the baptism is expressed as a verbal idea “I baptize” and the Mark and Luke passages carry the substantive idea “repentance ‘eis’ forgiveness of sins.” In each case, there is an “eis” prepositional clause modifying either a verb or a verbal noun in the context of explaining the point of John’s baptism. If I see repentance as causing baptism, then should I not also see forgiveness of sins as causing repentance? This is what Acts 13:38-43 seems to show; that the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins leads people to repentance.
And I challenge those who would interpret Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3 as baptism causing forgiveness of sins to apply the same meaning to Matthew 3:11. I do not know of any evangelicals who would support a view that baptism causes repentance. Such an interpretation is not required by the context or grammar and turns the entire context of Scripture on its head. Always, when the passage indicates the relationship, repentance precedes baptism in Scripture. If baptism does not cause repentance, then neither should it be seen as causing the forgiveness of sins. One should be consistent, given the fact that these passages use similar grammar in baptism/repentance contexts.
It is for this reason I side with Dr. Mantey in his view of these passages. I understand the counter-argument that a causative “eis” is not accepted by all grammarians, and such argument carries a great deal of weight for me. But the above reasoning is most compelling to me.
Now, when I turn to Acts 2:38, with the above background, you can understand why I interpret this passage “because of.” Luke, quoting Peter, is the one who recorded this in the Greek. He is the one who interpreted John the Baptist’s similar usage as being causative. He himself uses the a closely similar phrase in Luke 3:3 which I believe he intends us to understand in a causative light. I see no reason not to see a consistency in meaning between this passage, Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:4, and Luke 3:3. I believe “because of” is the best interpretation of Acts 2:38.
I understand your argument from Matthew 26:28. I certainly would agree with you that in that passage a purpose or relational reading is most preferred. And reading a similar prepositional phrase the same in the various places it appears is desirable. But for me, this would require me to read the larger idea “let each of you be baptized . . . eis_____” inconsistently. I would rather read the small phrase inconsistently than the larger, since the larger has more points in common to the specific context of the Acts 2:38 passage. (In the broad scheme two parallel passages help interpret each other. Two identical words in dissimilar passages are much less helpful in interpreting each other. The greater the points in common, the more likely the passages are to shed critical light on one another.) Each of the baptism passages share not only a similar grammar, but a shared context of baptism and repentance. It is for this reason that I read each of these baptism passages as “because of.”
You list Luke 24:47 as being an example where “eis” is linked to the forgiveness of sins. You have good company in this observation. This is the reading preferred by the 4th edition of the United Bible Society (UBS) translators. However, there is considerable disagreement on whether “eis” or “kai” should be read here, as there are manuscripts that support both readings. The 3rd edition of the UBS text gave the “eis” reading a “D” rating, meaning that it was highly doubtful. I notice that the 4th edition has upgraded this to a “B” rating meaning that it is almost certain. However, the apparatus cites no more support for this view than what existed in the 3rd edition. The rating is a function of the translator’s judgment and that judgment the translators explain so we can draw our own conclusion. What drives the translators to the “eis” is their reliance on the “older” documents and their view that an editor would likely change “eis” to “kai” because there is a second “eis” only three words later. See Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, pg. 188. I do not accept “eis” as being the best reading of Luke 24:47. The “eis” reading is supported by a Greek document from the early 3rd century, two Greek documents from the fourth century, a Syriac version from the fifth century, two Coptic texts from the 3rd century, and a Slavic text from the ninth century. This reading was not widespread (from Syria to Egypt), and was sparse, not supported by any of the early church fathers, except for possibly the Diatesseron (there are special problems involving the Diatesseron as support for any one position).
In contrast, the overwhelming number of early documents support a “kai” (and) reading here. It matches the early date of “eis” because Cyprian, who died in 258 A.D., cites the passage as “kai.” There also is a 3rd/4th century Syriac document (much earlier than the “eis” reading) with “kai.” There is a 4th century Italian manuscript with “kai,” along with the Vulgate’s reading of “kai.” There are four Greek texts from the 5th century, four Italian texts from the 5th century, a 5th century Armenian document, a 5th/6th century Ethiopic document, and a 5th century Georgian document. Further, the “kai” usage is supported by a 4th century church father (Hilary), and by Augustine. The exceeding early breadth of the “kai” reading (from Ethiopia to Georgia and from Italy to Syria) and its support by the early church, a support approximately as early as the earliest document supporting “eis” (both in the early to mid 3rd century), and the relative paucity of documents supporting “eis,” leads me to conclude that “kai” is the preferred reading.
Further, I think it is more likely that a copier would change this passage to be consistent with Matt. 26:28 than that one would change the passage to read “kai” for sake of eliminating an “eis.”
Having given you a very lengthy explanation for your simple observation, I am not willing to state dogmatically that “because of” is right. I believe it to be the best given the reasons set forth above, but good people with good arguments have differed on this interpretation. And I respect anyone’s right to read this passage as a reference passage, as grammarians have differed. I do not think a purpose reading is permitted without adopting a similar reading for Matt. 3:11. And such a reading of Matt. 3:11 would be contrary to the overwhelming weight of Scripture.
In any event, if you read more of the website, you will find that the view behind almost everything written therein is a focus on Jesus. Jesus is sufficient. We cannot add anything to Jesus without undoing the whole work of God. We cannot add circumcision. We cannot add the law. We cannot add the Lord’s table. We cannot add baptism. Either Christ saves, or we are not saved. This is the teaching of Scripture (See the book of Galatians, and especially chapter 5). Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. Water baptism is, at a minimum, a picture of the baptism we experience when we come to Christ through faith. See Romans 6. It may be more. But it is not the basis of our repentance, nor of our forgiveness of sins. He is that to us. As Scripture says, He now commands us to repent (Acts 17:30) and in Him we have forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14; 2:11-13).
May the Lord Jesus bless you as you seek to walk with Him, serving all in love.