What’s “for” For in Acts 2:38?

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38, ESV)


In my friend Billy Dyer’s article Don’t Slip on the Eis (Ice), Billy asserts that the only way to properly understand this particular passage is to see the word “for” as obtaining the forgiveness of sins. He makes this assertion by doing the exegetical work on the proper translation of the Greek word εἰς.

Billy is one of my favorite writers and he is busy doing apologetic and pastoral work both on his blog dyerthoughts.com and in the person. Most of his work deals with defending the Faith against skeptical ideas that come from outside of Christianity. Sometimes though, Billy defends his particular perspective of the Christian Faith. This is an important part of apologetics. I commend Billy for doing this with a passionate but loving spirit.

I am sure that Billy would agree with one of my favorite Christian sayings by Rupertus Meldenius.

unitatem in necessariis, in non necessariis libertatem, in omnibus caritatem-in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

It’s in that spirit that I reply to Billy’s article, with utmost respect and love as a brother in Christ.

So that I do not misrepresent Billy’s position, please always refer to the link provided and read what he has written.

In Billy’s article, he makes the claim that the word for that precedes the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:38 must be interpreted to mean to obtain.

The thrust of Billy’s argument was that although the word for, which is the Greek word eis, can be interpreted several different ways, in this particular sentence it can only mean to obtain.

His accusation was that Greg Koukl (and all others who don’t interpret this passage to propose the doctrine of baptismal regeneration) are interpreting this through their theological presuppositions rather than proper exegesis.

I’d like to give four reasons that I disagree with Billy and why that exegesis is important but it’s not the only hermeneutical method one employs to determine the meaning of a particular passage or even a specific word.

Clarity is also an important principle.

The Reformers agreed that there exists a principle and doctrine of Scripture by which the message of the gospel is made clear. We cannot always and immediately understand each part or even word of Scripture but even the least educated layperson may understand the message of the gospel by simply reading the Scripture.

This is an important piece of the puzzle when trying to understand a passage that deals directly with Justification, especially when Scripture clearly describes justification as coming through faith alone in so many other passages. (John 3:16; Rom 3:22, 24, 26,28-30; 4:3, 5,11,16; 5:1; 9:30; 10:9-10; Gal. 2:16, Gal. 2:21, Gal.3:5-6, Gal. 3:8, Gal. 3:14, Gal. 3:22, Gal. 3:24, Eph. 1:13, Eph. 2:8, Phil. 3:9, 1 Tim. 1:16.

So if it is true that Scripture is clear in so many places that Baptism is not a necessary element for justification, and Scripture does not contradict itself, then the weight of clear evidence must be considered.

When it comes to clarity or perspicuity, we do not use this doctrine to circumvent the words of Scripture, but we may use it to determine if those words meet the clear message found throughout it.

The perspicuity of Scripture is sharply affirmed, in the sense that the saving truth is declared to be placed in Scripture within the reach of all sincere seekers after it[1]-BB Warfield

This is because of the principle that Scripture must interpret Scripture.

We must understand the parts of Scripture that are ambiguous by the parts of Scripture that are clear.

Thus, not only is there a doctrine of clarity but there is also a doctrine in which Scripture is its own interpreter.

If it is true that all of Scripture is God’s Word, then it must be true that its message is coherent and consistent. God’s Word does not teach us one thing in one place and then teach another somewhere else. It is perfect.

We, on the other hand are not perfect. We are finite and our understanding is limited even though God’s condescension to us in language is efficient. We must remember that it is also sufficient, meaning that it can be understood in its totality.

Should we take Acts 2:38 and place it upon the many other texts that describe justification as coming by faith alone? I don’t think so.

There are Greek terms interpreted one way that have multiple meanings outside of Scripture.

Greek terms are not bound by mere Biblical use. In fact, much of our understanding of specific Greek terms and their grammatical uses come from ancient sources outside of the Scriptures.

Take the Greek term βαπτίζω (baptizō). We have all heard that this word for baptize has merely one meaning in all of Scripture and that is to immerse into water.

Unfortunately, the LXX (Septuagint), the Greek Old Testament, uses this very word in Leviticus 14:6-7.

He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field.” (Leviticus 14:6–7, ESV)

May I ask you how the body of a small bird can be immersed in the blood of another small bird?

Of course in this passage the word baptizō can only mean to sprinkle or maybe pour.

It may be a shock to some of you, but scanning through the Scriptures or a Google search on Gotquestions.org does not so easily dispatch Greek definitions, contrary to your tradition.

Maybe in this case, Billy and many others have allowed their theology to get in the way of their understanding of baptizō.

Actually, The idea that there can only be one meaning to this Greek term is special pleading. The wordεἰς-can be used as “for” as in “in light of” as well as many other meanings.

The context of Acts 2:38 should determine more of what εἰς means than mere Greek definitions, and credo Baptists need to be careful with that!

For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”” (Acts 2:39, ESV)

Ones theology is not an arbitrary means of understanding Scripture.

Billy makes the argument that many understand Scripture through a (preconceived or presupposed) theology. The concept he postulates is one that places the value of exegesis over any manmade system of understanding it.

“You can’t place Scripture in a box”, he might say.

I truly understand the sentiment here. Each of us wants to remain faithful to the text, not binding it to our presupposed ideas of what we want or need it to say.

I also understand that we stand on the shoulders of many great men who have gone before us. None of us come to Scripture with a blank slate. We always have presuppositions. We always have our minds made up about what it ought to say.

We need theology, both systematic and biblical, to direct our interpretations.

We should not put Scripture in a box, but we should be very careful to keep our minds contained in orthodox beliefs.

Theology is a very helpful guide for us to do that. It is not some manmade way of containing Scripture. It is a way of understanding Scripture, both as a whole and piece by piece.

The problem with Billy’s argument here is that each of us already have a theology, whether we like it or not, and we use that theology either inadvertently or purposefully to understand Scripture.

So, since theology is a way of understanding Scripture as a whole, and theology uses Scripture to develop itself, and Scripture is cohesive and coherent in its message, it is not necessarily wrong to use ones theology to understand Scripture.

Billy used his theology to understand Acts 2:38.

Finally, I hope you don’t find this mean spirited Billy. Just as you “corrected” Greg, I only mean to reopen the minds of those who you may have swayed.

Most importantly, and I’m sure Billy would agree, I wish for people to begin to seriously study Scripture rather than merely breezing through reading plans or making their self-imposed quota to win God’s favor, something unobtainable by our works.

All of that takes work though, but its why people like Billy and I wake up early and stay up late. The work is hard but the reward is great.

If you haven’t been taught the process of understanding Scripture (hermeneutics) or given those valuable tools, may I suggest this series: https://www.reclaimingthemind.org/members/category/credo-house-curriculum/boot-camps/how-to-study-the-bible/




[1] Warfield, B. B. (2008). The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: The Westminster Assembly and Its Work (Vol. 6, p. 232). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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