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Acts 2:38 KJV

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.

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    The original is εις αφεσιν αμαρτιων unto aphesis of sins . It is not 'for'. 'Unto' (εις ) denotes a progression. The same preposition is used in the gospels regarding John's baptism. The ritual, itself. does not cause remission. The public confession, the submission to the ordinance, leads to an experienced state of the relief of the burden of one's sins.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 5, 2023 at 10:01
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    Thanks for proving my point (that discussion of the sacraments can become volatile). Indeed, "εις " could be directional. But, far more likely, it could just the more common and more contextual "telic" use: the purpose of baptism is to deliver the forgiveness of sins to us.
    – Epimanes
    Oct 5, 2023 at 10:30

7 Answers 7

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There's a good answer in Romans:

Romans 6:3-5 RSV

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

In short, baptism is what connects us with the fact that Christ died for our sins (by identifying us with him). It transmits to us the "remission of sins" which Christ attained for us on the cross.

P.S. This answer was over-simplified, for the sake of getting across the connection in the least controversial way. I agree, myself, that the presence of faith is more central than the completion of the act. But I will confess also that I was neglectful in failing to refer to the Holy Spirit, who is the real key to the experience that Peter was offering.

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  • "How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" - Romans 6:2. Can you explain why 'water' is assumed to be the medium into which one is immersed here in Romans 6 rather than the death of Christ, as is stated. "We were buried with Him by baptism into death ..." Oct 5, 2023 at 16:34
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    @Mike Borden "Immersion in water" is what happens literally, and I'm inclined to take it as a symbol of death. Just as rising up from the water is a symbol of resurrection. So a literal baptism in water is a symbolic baptism in the death and resurrection of Christ. Oct 5, 2023 at 16:39
  • And does the symbol convey anything or does it represent something already attained by belief? Oct 8, 2023 at 12:39
  • @Mike Borden My church defines a sacrament as "the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace". I take that to mean your second option, and that's how I read the Acts baptisms. Oct 8, 2023 at 12:54
  • "It transmits to us the "remission of sins" which Christ attained for us on the cross." I am still unclear, from your answer, if you believe water baptism is a sign of or a vehicle for remission of sins. Why do you "remission of sins' here in quotation marks? Oct 9, 2023 at 12:25
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The original is εις αφεσιν αμαρτιων - unto aphesis of sins . It is not 'for'.

'Unto' (εις ) denotes a progression. The same preposition is used in the gospels regarding John's baptism. The ritual, itself. does not cause remission.

The public confession, the submission to the ordinance, leads to an experienced state of the relief of the burden of one's sins.

These things are not automatic ; they are not ritualistic ; spiritual matters cannot be 'earned' by performances.

The relief of being unburdened of one's sins is experienced when God, himself, justifies, as a result of redemption.

Repentance leads to faith. And faith receives a response of justification.


Daniel B Wallace in Beyond the Basics gives 8 meanings of eis and then spends two pages, p370/371, on exactly this text Acts 2:38 for reasons which become clear as he comments on it.

I thoroughly recommend what Wallace has written. Not that I agree with all of it, but because the arguments are all stated clearly.

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  • In the Nicene Creed as understood by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, unto clearly means for. Oct 9, 2023 at 18:40
  • @JamesAjiduah On this site, we are not seeking what the opinion is of any theological fraternity or fraternities. We are exclusively researching the text itself. 'Unto' does not mean 'for' whoever they are who assert it to be so. They are completely different concepts,
    – Nigel J
    Oct 10, 2023 at 18:03
  • My point is that people who "researched the text itself" saw no difference, so you are in effect, making a non issue out of a specific word. Oct 12, 2023 at 13:42
  • @JamesAjiduah I cannot speak for these 'people' nor can I comment on the accuracy and precision of their 'research'. The word eis means what it means. And that is how it ought to be rendered in English. Else, we have an erroneous translation. And then we shall have an incorrect concept in our minds. My own aim is to precisely represent the meaning of the apostles of Jesus Christ.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 12, 2023 at 14:09
  • You're not accurate on 'eis'. From Strong's: "A primary preposition; to or into (indicating the point reached or entered), of place, time, or (figuratively) purpose (result, etc.); also in adverbial phrases -- (abundant-)ly, against, among, as, at, (back-)ward, before, by, concerning, + continual, + far more exceeding, for (intent, purpose), fore, + forth, in (among, at, unto, -so much that, -to), to the intent that, + of one mind, + never, of, (up-)on, + perish, + set at one again, Oct 12, 2023 at 20:29
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It's hermeneutically important to consider what "baptism" meant to the people in Israel at the time of Jesus rather than the subsequent cultural and religious context.

And why was John, the cousin of Jesus called, “the Baptist”? The Greek word, baptistés, means “one who immerses.” This Greek word was assimilated into English by way of Latin and Old French. So, a more descriptive reference would be to “John the Immerser.”

Historically, the Israelites long practiced ritual immersion for ceremonial cleansing and dedication. They submerged themselves in water collected from natural sources such as from rain, a spring, or a river. For people who accepted the teachings of John the Immerser, this ceremony demonstrated their repentance, spiritual cleansing, and consecration, committing themselves to turn away from of their personal sins.

In that context, it seems clear that the ritual public immersion Peter was referring to was interpreted at that time as a physical expression and culmination of an internal conviction and commitment to repentance and trust in Jesus for salvation.

As John the Immerser expressed the idea regarding Jesus

Luke 3:16 ESV

... I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

So how does the immersion of John relate to the immersion of the Holy Spirit that Peter is also referring to as a gift?

Acts 19:1-7 ESV

1 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John's baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

These twelve men received three immersions:

  1. The water immersion of repentance from John.
  2. The water immersion in the name of Jesus.
  3. The spiritual immersion into the Holy Spirit by Jesus, accompanied by fire.

These three were combined with Peter's statement in Acts 2:38.

As a side note, I believe that immersion into fire refers to the fire of persecution, while others believe it refers to the "tongues of fire" that appeared over the heads of the believers at Pentecost. But that's another question.

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  • Let me also add that immersion into fire might also refer to sanctification, burning off the unfruitful and sinful parts of our lives, transforming us into his image. The relevant question is posted here: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/1971/…
    – Dieter
    Oct 21, 2023 at 3:33
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To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. - Acts: 10:43

The ubiquitous preposition εις (eis) describes a motion into any place or thing, and can often be translated with "in", "into" or "at". It is the opposite of εκ (ek), which describes a motion out of anything, and differs from προς (pros) in that the latter describes the approach while εις (eis) describes the arrival. - Abarim Publications

Eis can describe an approaching arrival, an arrival that is in progress, or an already accomplished arrival and we see all of these in Scripture. Indeed, in many of the 1773 appearances of 'eis' in Scripture, the preposition indicates a destination or condition already arrived at, such as Matt. 4:13 - 'He came and dwelt in (eis) Capernaum, or denotes something more clearly as 'at' or 'upon', such as Matt. 12:41 - "because they repented at (ice) the preaching of Jonas".

The verse in Acts 2 could easily be directing them to be baptized upon or at the remission of sins. In other words they heard Peter's words, were convicted in their hearts (repented), believed (remission of sin), and then were baptized.

This is the correct order based upon New Testament recounting: Believe, be forgiven, get baptized. Taking just one example as a demonstration, the Roman Centurion and his household heard Peter's speech, received his words, and received the Holy Spirit prior to water baptism:

Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.- Acts 10:47-48

Those holding that water baptism causes or conveys remission of sins must explain why and how the Holy Spirit of God was poured out on unforgiven people; how the Holy Spirit of God could reside in an absolutely polluted temple full of unremitted sin. They must also explain why and how immersion in water conveys that which is attained only with shed blood (Hebrews 9).

The temple is purified and consecrated by blood and water baptism is the response to God of the newly cleansed conscience. It is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh ... not remission of sin. Sin is remitted by blood alone.

The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. - 1 Peter 3:21-22

The sinner repents/believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, is cleansed thereby of all unrighteousness through His shed blood (making him a fit dwelling place for the Holy Spirit), and then makes testimony of death to sin and new life in Christ by being baptized in or with water.

Another example of this process is made evident in John the Baptist's response when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to his baptism:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: - Matthew 3:7-8

John's Baptism is said to be "unto repentance (verse 11) and yet John requires the 'fruit of repentance' from these men before he will baptize them. John's baptism is therefore 'upon' repentance or, similar to the Matthew 4:13 and 12:41 usages, 'at' repentance.

The Scriptural pattern is to be baptized (in water) in the name of the Lord Jesus upon or at remission of sins, not for remission of sins.

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    Notice carefully what Peter did not say in Acts 2:38. He did not say "Believe, and at the moment of belief you receive the Holy Spirit and are saved. Then, be baptized to show everybody you are now saved, and you will experience the relief of having your sins forgiven". Peter doesn't say that, but somehow that's what everybody thinks he said. He said be baptized, and then (after being baptized and having hands laid on) you will receive the Holy Spirit. Amazing what people do with God's word.
    – moron
    Oct 6, 2023 at 8:08
  • @moron Did the Centurion get baptized and have hands laid upon him prior to receiving the Holy Spirit? Oct 8, 2023 at 12:33
  • What of the Samaritans and the disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus? Oct 9, 2023 at 15:59
  • @JamesAjiduah It seems as though John's disciples in Ephesus had not yet believed in Jesus having come: Paul had to explain the connection between John's baptism and the coming of Jesus. The Samaritans may have had the Holy Spirit withheld so that Simon the Magician's issue could be sorted out in person since there were competing miracles. Oct 9, 2023 at 16:43
  • @MikeBorden Luke clearly defines the issue as receiving an incomplete baptism, not a lack of faith. As for the Samaritans, Simon himself was following Philip at this time, so the issue of competing miracles was solved. Oct 9, 2023 at 18:38
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As an aside, before I begin to answer, I'd like to be very clear and transparent that questions touching on the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper) quickly become the most volatile and vitriolic when people begin to answer questions about them. In this answer, I'm endeavoring to humbly share an honest answer to your honest question. Though, no doubt, others will Bring their own answers from their own perspective. It saddened me to see people downvoting your question. For, at its core, it actually is a hermeneutical question that belongs here.


If I could rephrase your question slightly, one would ask, "If Jesus forgives our sins, then how does Baptism forgive our sins?" Over the years, I've often heard its partner question, "if Jesus saves, how can Peter say that baptism saves (1 Peter 3:21)?"

To tackle these sorts of questions, it's important to start at the beginning and grapple with the fall into sin—that, specifically, it was a thorough fall into sin. As a result of the fall into sin, the image of God was lost to humans. And Adam no longer had children in the image of God. Instead, they were in his own image (Gen. 5:3).

What was the spiritual state of all humans now, after the fall into sin, after they lost the image of God? Both before the flood and after, the inclinations of the hearts of people are only evil, all the time (Genesis 6:5; 8:21). The impact of this is that all humans, as they come into this world, are unable to save themselves (pay for their own sins). But even worse, they don't even want to (Romans 8:7). More than than that, everything the Bible says to each of us as we come into this world is absolute foolishness that we cannot understand (1Cor. 2:14). All humans are left after the fall unable—unable to pay/atone for any of our sins and unable to know who God is and make him our own. God, then is the one who has to do all the work in giving us forgiveness and giving us faith in him. For we cannot earn God with our hands (good works done with our actions to help pay for our sin) our our hearts (a decision to use our will in conversion, since our will is the very thing that needs to be converted)

So how does this happen then? How does God not only do all the work in paying for all of our sins and also all the work in making us know who he is and making us Christians?

In the Reformation era one of the most famous sloagans/statements is the three "solas." The three solas help us answer the question:

  • Solā Gratiā: "By grace alone": The only motivation God would have to choose and save us is out of his undeserved love for us undeserving sinners.
  • Solā Scripturā: "By scripture alone": The only instrument or tool that God uses to give forgiveness to us is his word.
  • Solā Fide:. "by faith alone": The only instrument that passively receives this gift of salvation is faith.

Notice the word, "BY." Each of the solas answers a different question. God saves us. But it's all in line with his mercy and by his grace (Eph. 2) since we cannot pay/atone for any of our sins. But here's where it gets even more interesting. Not only can we not pay for any of our own sins, also we (as we come into this world) do not know who God is. And the little that we do know about God, we naturally hate (again: Rom. 8:7). So God has to perform another miracle. The first miracle is paying for our sins. The second is changing our hearts that we would actually believe it. God's word then, is the tool he uses to convey both forgiveness and faith to us. The final "sola", by faith alone completes this communication. We cannot conjure up faith by ourselves. So God not only has to give his salvation to us (through his word). He also has to use his word to create faith in us.

When we understand these three solas properly, it begins to open up our eyes to how God's word speaks about the Holy Spirit uses that word, "saves." Does God save us? Does his word save us? Does our faith save us? (and, yes, you could switch out the word, "save" with the word, "forgive").

Our Triune God is the only one who saves us. And the only motivation he has for doing so is his grace (cf. Luke 19:9; John 3:17; Acts 15:11; Rom. 5:9; 1Cor. 1:21; Eph. 2:5; 1Tim. 1:15; 2Tim. 1:9)

His word is the only instrument/tool he uses to convey this forgiveness to us and create faith within us. There's a bunch to say about the sacraments. But as a starting point, Baptism and the Lord's Supper are the gospel. They are God's word. They convey forgiveness to us and create faith within us. Baptism forgives (or saves) because it (water connected with God's word) conveys forgiveness to us. (cf. James 1:21; Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21; 1Cor. 1:18; 1Cor. 15:1; 1Tim. 4:16; Titus 3:5).

Finally, faith too saves/forgives. For, after God creates faith in our hearts through his word, it actually does what we cannot do on our own. The human will is shattered after the fall into sin. So God gives us faith to receive what he's actually offering to us through his word. By faith we receive this forgiveness (not "because of faith"). (cf Mark 5:34; Mark 10:52; Luke 7:50; Luke 8:48; Luke 17:19; Luke 18:42).

With all this in mind then, we can answer your question: Does Jesus forgive our sins, or does baptism? The answer is "yes" (to both questions) but for different reasons. By grace alone, the only motivation and reason we are saved is God's gracious goodness. Through scripture alone (here Baptism) this forgiveness actually is delivered to us.

Thanks for being brave enough to ask the question. And I pray that my answer will help you grapple with how scripture can nimbly says that, at the same time, God, scripture, and faith all save us (and be utterly correct in doing so).

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    :) did I accuse you of anything? Really, is that what you conjectured from my comment? I merely stated a fact - which is what BH is supposed to be based on - scriptural facts. I'll delete this if you delete your graphic presumption.
    – Steve
    Oct 5, 2023 at 11:20
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    Perhaps your shorthand 'fact' is misleading on its own. Baptism is always connected with the person/name of Jesus, or else it is just a bath.
    – Steve
    Oct 5, 2023 at 11:41
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    Well no it isn't. No one in the entire NT ever baptised according to the tripersonal formula, but only in Jesus' name.
    – Steve
    Oct 5, 2023 at 11:46
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    He commands them(?), yet no one ever did it - very naughty Apostles I suppose! If it was that important as you allude, it would be confirmed over and over but it isn't. Have a great day.
    – Steve
    Oct 5, 2023 at 11:58
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    Wait a minute, are you really making the case that, even though Jesus clearly commands them to make disciples by baptizing the name of our Triune God, nevertheless no one in the entire NT era actually did this?
    – Epimanes
    Oct 5, 2023 at 12:35
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"for" (Gr. eis), "the remission of sins", is understood to mean "for the purpose of" or "with the result of" in English. It doesn't mean as you suggest in your question, "in place of" or "on behalf of". Perhaps "unto" would make more sense to you. Either works. Do this, for (the purpose of) that.

Do the two things, Peter instructs. The result will be two things: the remission of [your] sins, and the receiving of the gift of holy spirit.

"Repent" simply means "change your mind". "Remission" is something God does - He wipes your slate clean. The gift is something God gives. Much of the detail is provided by God in the 7 church epistles (which He gave to Paul to write).

All should take into account that the baptism (baptize = "to dip") Peter would have been referring to (in the name of Jesus Christ) is this (Acts 1:4, 5):

And, being assembled together with them, [the resurrected man, Jesus Christ] commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.

Bold emphasis added.

The word "holy" means "separated from the common lot". Biblically, holy is applied to people and things that the God of the Bible has separated from the common lot of people or things. Keep in mind that there exists unholy spirits, too. The chief of them personally visited Jesus in Matthew 4:1ff. The two will have another short-lived visit in the future.

"the gift of the Holy Ghost" (KJV capitalization) in 2:38 is either the gift from the Holy Spirit (i.e., God himself, who is holy and who is spirit) or the gift of holy spirit (the promise of the Father) from the Holy Spirit, God. John the B himself testified (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16) that Jesus would baptize obedient people in (fiery) holy spirit, a far superior baptism to the water he baptized with.

Why so superior? Holy spirit is the critical missing part in all men and women born since Adam lost his in the fall. Spirit is how men and women can communicate and have fellowship directly with God, the Creator of the heaven and earth. Adam was "formed", "made", and "created" as "body" (from "the dust of the ground"), "soul" ("the breath of life"), and "spirit" ("in His image"). When he died ("thou shalt surely die"), he lost the spirit of or from God. He and Eve continued to live (body and soul), obviously, for quite a while (without spirit), but God did promise them Jesus Christ in Genesis 3:15 ("her seed" - women don't have seed; the seed in the virgin Mary was created by God).

The promise of God in Genesis 3:15 includes the complete redemptive work of Jesus Christ, encompassed in his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his soon return. He paid the price (what would you pay?) to bring people back into God's fold, into His family (from which Adam had alienated all of mankind to follow).

To "baptize" is "to dip". There is no record in the Scriptures that water dipping was a practice required by God after the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1 (A.D. 28). There are a few mentions of people acting "super-doctrinally", that is, beyond the command/promise of God's word. These are "extra-curricular" activities that hurt no one unless taught as doctrine for right-believing (such things then become "the doctrines and commandments of men"). We ought, I'd say, to concern ourselves with pleasing God and not men.

It is nonsense to state that repentance ("change your mind") or baptism ("in the name of Jesus Christ" or "in holy spirit") must be public (as someone stated above), before other people. Do you see that requirement here or anywhere? If it happened that way sometime, so what? Has someone counted the number of times it was done privately (before God alone)?

It seems that, since Acts 2:1, some groups have made water dipping their own denominational doctrine, contrary to the instruction of 2 Peter 1:20-21. They make misleading claims about what the Scriptures say. Get yourself dunked if you want, but it is not necessary from God's point of view. Acts 2:28 is only one such place where it is perfectly clear.

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Acts describes specific works of the Holy Spirit in building the Church. While the principle is the same, the works cannot be compared without considering the specific group. For example, comparing this event with the conversion of Cornelius and his family is problematic because this event involves Jews who have been given the Law which describes what they must do to make atonement for sin.

These Jews are in Jerusalem to obverse the Feast of Weeks. Peter gives other details:

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— 23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death (Acts 2)

These are those who heard Jesus, saw miracles, yet they participated in having Him put to death. As John says, He came to His own and His own did not receive Him (John 1:11). They had previously rejected Him as the Lamb of God, the Christ who is the Son of God.

Peter's first instruction is to repent. They must change their thinking about Jesus. One who made this choice will also recognize they sinned by rejecting the Christ and participating in having put Him to death.

If a Jew heard Peter and did repent and did recognize their sin, what then should that Jew do to make atonement for their sin?

According to the Law, that Jew should make the sin offering the Law requires. They would also look forward to the Day of Atonement, when their sin and the sin of those who rejected and still reject the Christ would be handled according to the Law.

This points to a second repentance that Jew must make: they must change their thinking about how atonement for sin is accomplished. Without a change of thinking about atonement for sin, that Jew will immediately look to the Law for instruction on how to make atonement, and they will continue to look the Day of Atonement as the means for dealing with their sin. When they are cut to the heart they are not to go and obtain the proper animal the Law requires in order to make atonement. They must also change their thinking about how atonement is made.

For that Jew repentance is not simply a matter of believing Jesus is the Christ. That Jew must also believe atonement for their sin was accomplished when Jesus was put to death. They must believe no further offering is required and the Day of Atonement is meaningless. Failure to change their thinking about how atonement sin is made would be a refusal to receive the remission which had been accomplished.

Theses Jews were in Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Weeks. They were obeying the Law. They must change their thinking about how atonement is made for their sin of rejecting the Christ. They are not to make the sin offering the Law requires. They are not to wait for the Day of Atonement. They must discard the old way and accept what Christ has done.

Peter gives them the instruction to be baptized which is their public expression they accept what Christ has done. In a sense, their "sin offering" is to demonstrate they have no intention of adding their own sin offering or waiting for the Day of Atonement.

When this happens, they will receive the Holy Spirit and know all of their sins were forgiven.

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