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Background information:

The Nicene Creed declares: “We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.” However, while doing research into this subject, I found this quote from the Lion Book of Christianity regarding Acts 2:38 which said “We acknowledge one baptism unto remission of sins.” (pp 158-169)

My Collins English Dictionary explains that the preposition 'unto' is an archaic word for 'to'.

I have searched various Christianity Stack questions about baptism and the Nicene Creed but can’t find anything to address whether the original wording should be “unto” or “for.”

https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/44565/how-do-credo-baptists-explain-baptism-in-the-nicene-creed

https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/46428/was-the-nicene-creed-of-ad-381-an-update-of-the-nicene-creed-of-ad-325?rq=1

Please be aware that this is NOT a question about credo-baptism or the remission of sins. Neither is this about whether there is a “right” or a “wrong” interpretation. I would like to know if the original wording of the Nicene Creed says “unto remission of sins” or not. There may be an important distinction between saying “for the remission of sins” and “unto remission of sins”.

Interestingly, the KJV uses the expression "for the remission of sins" in Acts 2:38.

I don’t want to restrict this question to any particular denomination but seek scholarly insights from anyone who can shed light on the expression "FOR the remission of sins" and the significance of "UNTO remission of sins". Thank you.

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    Good question (+1). This is a question about the Greek preposition εἰς Strong 1519 which is used in multiple places in scripture regarding the remission of sins in the context, particularly, of repentance. I would suggest that the focus of the question should be scripture rather than the creed, perhaps Matthew 26:28.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 17, 2019 at 17:18
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    This absolutely needs to be edited to focus on something in the Bible, not the creeds, or else moved to Christianity.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 18, 2019 at 14:54
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    @curiousdannii - noted and question edited accordingly.
    – Lesley
    Dec 18, 2019 at 16:01
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    I’m voting to close this question because this question is actually about the Nicene Crede and not about the Bible.
    – Austin
    Dec 24, 2021 at 10:17
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    Personally I believe the focus on Acts 2:38 is good enough for this to be on topic, but also the interface between Acts and the Nicene Creed as a key tertiary text 'commentating' on the intent of the Apostolic tradition would seem to be in an appropriate scope for the site.
    – Steve Taylor
    Dec 26, 2021 at 23:52

4 Answers 4

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I went straight to Daniel B Wallace's 'Beyond the Basics' Greek grammar, which is where I often end up in difficult situations with Greek. Sadly, on the subject of εἰς, eis (in relation to baptism xxx the forgiveness of sins) he comes to no conclusion - which is very unusual for Daniel B Wallace, it has to be said.

I am not going to copy his full two pages, but it is notable that he spends his entire section, on this particular preposition, discussing the controversy regarding Acts 2:38 :

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. [KJV]

Notably, Young's Literal Translation has 'to' the remission of sins in this place.

The controversy upon which Daniel Wallace focuses is whether εἰς can be viewed as causative. That is to say, Is the forgiveness of sins caused by baptism or is it coincidental to baptism (meaning it coincides with baptism and they co-exist together) or does one follow the other in terms of a progressive process ?

Daniel Wallace lists eight different concepts expressed (he says) by εἰς.

  • Spatial ........into, toward
  • Temporal........for, throughout
  • Purpose.........for, in order to, to
  • Result..........so that, with the result that
  • Reference.......with respect to
  • Advantage.......for
  • Disadvantage....against
  • In the place of the very versatile preposition εν en

It is notable that in the KJV, where εἰς, eis, appears in the original, the translators have used the following :

against (25) among (16) at (20) for (91) in (131) into (571) that (30) on (57) to (282) toward (32) unto (208) upon (25) and some others . . .

To, toward, unto and into (Daniel Wallace's primary categories) therefore account for almost 1,200 of those occasions and the other translations (Daniel Wallace's secondary categories) about 350.

Those 1,200 occasions, I think, give an indication of what we should generally expect from εἰς, eis, in the majority of contexts.


'To' 'toward' or 'unto' agree with Young and agree with the majority translation (of the KJV) in respect of the preposition εἰς, eis.

All of this leads me, personally, to agree with the quote in the question :

“We acknowledge one baptism unto remission of sins.”

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The original Greek of the Nicene Creed says, "ὁμολογοῦμεν ἓν βάπτισμα εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν" which means "we confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." The word εἰς can be translated either way as "unto" or "for," since both in English in this context mean the same thing.

Acts 2:38

Πέτρος δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς Μετανοήσατε, [φησίν] καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐν / ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν, καὶ λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος·

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 shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

What is baptism "unto?" The forgiveness of sins. What is baptism "for?" The forgiveness of sins. Two valid translations of the Greek εις. The Latin version also has "Confitemur unum baptismum in remissionem peccatorum" which is absolutely identical in meaning.

Without this linguistic quibbling, the function of baptism was undisputed in Christianity from the beginning, and in every century viewed as the instrumental cause of justification. Even in Peter's Epistle: "...eight souls were saved through water: which typifies baptism, which now saves you also" (1 Pet. 3:21). It was a much later concept that baptism was in any way optional for justification.

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This is a helpful study on For Eis: 06f_01_Faith_Alone_and_Eis

06f_01_Faith_Alone_and_Eis
Lesson 1 of 3
I was challenged by someone who objected to me saying that it was in baptism we identified with the death burial and resurrection of Christ and at that point have our sins forgiven because of the blood of Jesus. Also the use of Eis (for or because of) in Acts 2:38 This study was undertaken in response to that challenge and the ensuing discussions.

Lesson 2 & Lesson 3

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    Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. This is considered a "link-only" answer. It would be helpful for future visitors of this question and its answer if you could give a summary of what is in those videos. This would be especially helpful if those links become broken or die. Also, when you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Mar 11 at 18:22
  • I appreciate your contribution, Graeme, but what is Eis? As it happens, I don't do video sermons and am extremely cautious about opening up links from unknown sources. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to read stuff, preferably out of books! But have an up-vote to encourage you to persevere with this site. Have you looked at Christianity Stack Exchange yet?
    – Lesley
    Mar 11 at 20:42
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In popular circles, it is commonly claimed that instead of being baptized with the goal of obtaining the forgiveness of sins, people are baptized to declare or symbolize that one has already obtained salvation before baptism. The claim is that εἰς, the Greek word translated “for” by many translations in Acts 2:38, means “because of,” as in “Wanted for [because of] murder.” As a criminal is wanted because he already had committed murder beforehand, so these men would be baptized because they already had the remission of sins, it’s argued. Is this reasoning accurate?

Answer

While the English word for can mean “because of” in addition to non-causal meanings, the Greek word εἰς is not so ambiguous. Scholarly consensus is against εἰς meaning “because of.” For example, Thayer's Greek Lexicon says that εις αφεσιν αμαρτιων (the phrase translated “for the remission of sins” by the KJV, NKJV, etc.) means, “to obtain the remission of sins.”[1] In the words of Baptist scholar J. W. Wilmarth, “‘In order to declare’ or ‘symbolize’ would be a monstrous translation of ‘eis.’”[2] Here are a few translations of Acts 2:38:

• “be baptized … unto the remission of your sins” (American Standard Version)

• “be baptized … so that your sins may be forgiven” (New Revised Standard Version)

• “be baptized … to remission of sins” (Young's Literal Translation)

• “be baptized … that you may have your sins forgiven” (Charles B. William's Translation)[3]

• “[be baptized] in order to the forgiveness of sins” (American Baptist Commentary)[3]

• “be immersed … unto remission of your sins” (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)[3]

More translations could be given. The first three of the above translations are standard, accepted translations, while the latter three are the result of Baptist scholarship, hardly a denomination with bias against an alleged causal sense of εις.

Furthermore, if “for” meant “because of” in Acts 2:38, then Peter would be telling those hearing to repent “because of” the remission of sins as well, which may cause (no pun intended) further issues. That Acts 2:38 says to repent, as well as be baptized, “for the remission of sins” is explained by the American Baptist Commentary (mentioned earlier), which says εις αφεσιν αμαρτιων is “connect[ed] naturally with both the preceding verbs.”[2][3] (The “preceding verbs” are “repent” and “be baptized.”) Also again, the Baptist scholar J. W. Wilmarth agrees, saying “the natural construction connects [‘for the remission of sins’] with both the preceding verbs [‘repent’ and ‘be baptized’]. It enforces the entire exhortation, not one part of it to the exclusion of the other, as Hackett says.” Many more sources could be cited,[2] but such should be sufficient.

Contrary to popular teaching, Acts 2:38 states that one undergoes baptism with the purpose/result being the forgiveness of sins, placing baptism before forgiveness. Therefore, unto is a valid word conveying the idea.

Appendix

This question isn’t academic; there are significant implications regarding the meaning of Acts 2:38. For example, what if you’ve been baptized, but your baptism’s purpose was opposed to the goal of Bible baptism? Would this make your baptism different from the true one, and thus invalid?

In Acts 19, the apostle Paul finds people who were baptized into John’s baptism (v. 3). In the next verse, verse 4, Paul explains that John’s baptism is obsolete: “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus” (NKJV). Since John’s baptism was different than baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus, their baptism was invalid. “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5, NKJV).

What if one's baptism was different than the Lord's baptism? We read that John's baptism was invalid because its design and purpose differed from that of the Lord's baptism. In the same way, it's not unreasonable that a baptism whose design and purpose is to proclaim you were already saved, would, likewise, qualify as a different baptism. After all, the plain understanding of Acts 2:38's baptism is opposed by most denominations, which instead teach the purpose of baptism to be proclaiming you already have been saved. At the very least, it would be risky to stay with a baptism intended to proclaim you were already saved. If you would like to discuss this more, know that I'm more than happy to do so, whether in the comments or another format.

References

[1] http://www.christianresearcher.com/uploads/1/6/2/9/16298120/01greekenglishlexicongrimmthayer.pdf#page=115

[2] https://icotb.org/resources/Warren-BallardDebate.pdf#page=167, pgs. 163–164, 186

[3] http://www.truthmagazine.com/archives/volume6/TM006048.htm

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    Your answer is thought-provoking and I will spend more time going over it again. I'm very pleased you saw fit to post an answer to a question that is 2.5 years old, because you have given me something to think about. I was baptised (by full water immersion) as a young teenager but came to realise it was invalid. In June 1996 I gladly and willingly submitted to another baptism (by full water immersion) in a U.K. Baptist Church, after I understood the full significance of my sins and repented. Shortly after my baptism I received confirmation by the Holy Spirit of my adoption into God's family.
    – Lesley
    May 13 at 15:14
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    @Lesley I'm happy to hear the answer can be of benefit to you! I think this subject deserves more discussion than most people give it, so please let me know any questions you have. :)
    – The Editor
    May 13 at 16:43
  • I've just been looking at this question on Christianity Stack Exchange: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/91066/…
    – Lesley
    May 13 at 16:53
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    The baptism of John was never rendered obsolete. It was vital as preparation for Jewish people to then receive the Messiah, for they had to first repent, be baptised, and then they would recognize and turn to Messiah. Repentance prepared their hearts; John gave "the beginning of the gospel", so when the full gospel seed dropped into their prepared hearts, it grew and produced results, unlike seed dropped into hard (unprepared) soil (hearts). When Gentiles who'd only had John's baptism had Jewish Christians explain the full gospel, they received the Holy Spirit for their hearts were prepared.
    – Anne
    May 13 at 17:12
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    @Lesley I see. I don't believe paedobaptism is Scriptural The question's interesting: If the "proof" that infant males should be baptized is that infant males were circumcised, then why do people baptize infant females, who were never circumcised? Since the Greek word transliterated "baptism" didn't refer to sprinkling but to immersion, and since Paul compares immersion to being buried with Christ (Romans 6:1-7), I advocate immersion. And since in baptism, we're buried and raised with Christ "through faith" (Col. 2:11-13, NKJV), I don't advocate baptizing infants, who don't have faith.
    – The Editor
    May 14 at 15:18

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