Saturday, February 7, 2015

Slipping on the "eis" Toward a False Teaching of Baptismal Regeneration

Moving forward in this series on the subject of baptismal regeneration, I want to deal with a popular passage that is often quoted by those defending the position that baptismal regeneration is biblical. If you are just joining in the discussion of this subject, baptismal regeneration is a belief where the act of baptism is part of the order of salvation and an act that saves the individual. The passage I want to address in this posting is Acts 2:38,

"Peter said to them, '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.'"

As it is one any one single verse or passage, we need to remember to discern what it teaches by first filtering it through what we know the entire Bible teaches on the subject.

In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is vey clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (
Ephesians 2:8-9). So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation, is a faulty interpretation.

The Slippery Problem in a Faulty Interpretation.

Why, then, do some come to the conclusion that we must be baptized in order to be saved? Often, the discussion of whether or not this passage teaches baptism is required for salvation centers around the Greek preposition "eis" (pronounced "ice") in this passage. Those who hold to the belief that baptism is required for salvation are quick to point to this verse and the fact that it says “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for (eis) the forgiveness of your sins,” assuming that the word translated “for the purpose of.” However, in both Greek and English, there are many possible usages of the word “for.”

Before I get to those allow me to give you an example of when "for" could be referring to a "purpose."  Let's say I have a real bad sinus infection. My doctor might say "take some Mucinex for my sinus infection." It is pretty obvious that my "doc" is not telling me to “take Mucinex in order to get my sinus infection,” but instead to “take Mucinex because I already have a sinus infection.”

In essence those who try to defend baptismal regeneration using this verse "slip on the 'eis'" and do not take into consideration the whole corpus of the doctrine of salvation. How so? Because the Greek of the New Testament is a language where prepositions can direct the meaning of phrase and can have severe results if not interpreted properly. 

"It's All Greek to Me," Does not Work with Hermeneutics.

To explain this further, there are essentially three possible meanings of the word "for" (eis) that might fit the context of 
Acts 2:38  but only one of the fits nicely with the entire corpus of the doctrine of biblical salvation.

The first implies purpose, i.e., "in order to be, for the purpose of getting, keeping or having."  The second implies a meaning of result, i.e, "b
ecause of, as the result of.” And the third has an implication of reference, i.e., "with reference to, with regards to"  Since any one of the three meanings could fit the context of this passage, additional study is required in order to determine which one is biblically  correct.

This is where the understanding for the original language of the text comes in. Using good exegetical and theological tools, we can look to the original language of the text. As we look at the source books, we can see that the preposition eis is used 1774 times in the New Testament and that it is translated many different ways. 

Like the English word “for” it can have several different meanings. So, again, we see at least two or three possible meanings of the passage, one that would seem to support that baptism is required for salvation and others that would not.[1] By examining the whole corpus of the New Testament doctrine of salvation, we can understand that the "for" in Acts 2:38 should be translated “because of” or “in view of,” and not “in order to,” or “for the purpose of.”

Let's look at some biblical examples. One clear example of how this preposition is used in other passages is seen in Matthew 12:41, where this preposition (eis) communicates the result of an action. In this instance, it is said that the men of Ninevah "repented at (eis) the preaching of Jonah." Translation? The men of Ninevah heard Jonah's preaching and were moved by the Spirit of God and they repented. 

In this same way, it would be possible that Acts 2:38 is communicated. It is the fact that the people were to be baptized "as a result of" or "because" they had already believed, and in their believing had already received the forgiveness of their sins.[2] This interpretation of Acts 2:38 is consistent wit the messages of Peter's next two sermons in Acts, where he is preaching to the unbelieving Jews and associates the forgiveness of sins with the Act of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.[3] Notice in those passages that baptism is no where mentioned.

There is plenty of grammatical evidence encompassing this verse. It is clear that that baptism is not required to receive forgiveness. The gift of the Holy Spirit should also be evident by looking in Acts 10, and at verse 43. In this passage, Peter tells Cornelius that "through His (Jesus') name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." Notice there is nothing mentioned in Acts 10:43 about baptism being in the ordo salutis.[4] Notice also that Peter connects belief in Jesus Christ with the act of receiving forgiveness of sins. The next thing that happens is that the "Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message" (Acts 10:44).  Was it because they were baptized? No. It is because or "as a result of" their believing Peter's message about Jesus Christ. Notice in verses 47-48, also, that it is only after their belief and therefore received the forgiveness for their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit that Cornelius and his family (household) were baptized.  

It is all about the context. The context of the passage is very clear. Cornelius and his household received both forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit before they were baptized in water. In fact, the reason Peter allowed them to be baptized was that they showed evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit, "just as Peter and the Jewish believers" had received these gifts.


In this posting, I my mission was to defend the fact that Acts 2:38 does not teach that baptism is required for salvation. While baptism is important in our discipleship and following Christ's example, and membership in the local body of believers, it is not the mean nor the mode for remission or forgiveness of sins. The Bible is clear in its context that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone.[5]  

Thank you for engaging this posting. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at or comment below.  


[1] While both the meanings of the Greek word eis are seen in different passages of Scripture, such noted Greek scholars as A.T. Robertson and J.R. Mantey have maintained that the Greek preposition eis in Acts 2:38 should be translated “because of” or “in view of,” and not “in order to,” or “for the purpose of.”

[2] See the following passages, John 1:12John 3:14-18John 5:24John 11:25-26Acts 10:43Acts 13:39Acts 16:31Acts 26:18Romans 10:9Ephesians 1:12-14
[3] Peter's messages can be found in Acts 3:17-26 and Acts 4:8-12

[4] Ordo salutis or order of salvation or the equation for salvation.

[5] John 1:12John 3:16Acts 16:31Romans 3:21-30Romans 4:5Romans 10:9-10Ephesians 2:8-10Philippians 3:9Galatians 2:16

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