IX.17. Is There a Contradiction Between Acts 2:38 and John 3:16 or Does Baptism Save?

Question:  There is seemingly a contradiction between Acts 2:38, which says "... Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ FOR the remission of sins,..."; and, John 3:16 which says "...whosoever BELIEVETH in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Both can’t be right! So, what is your answer to this?

Answer:  The key to getting the proper understanding of Acts 2:38 is found in the little Greek word "eis", translated "for." The Greek "eis" is translated various ways in the New Testament, depending on the context and the usage of the word itself, by demonstrating basis, ground, aim, or purpose.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 2:7, "eis doxan hemon" is translated "unto our glory." (KJT). In the RSV, it is translated "for our glory." It is translated thus in demonstrating aim or purpose, that being, our glory. In Matthew 12:41, "eis" is translated "at", demonstrating the basis or grounds, that being the preaching of Jonah was the grounds for the repentance of Nineveh. "...because they repented at (or "because of") the preaching of Jonas."

A.T. Robertson, a well-known Greek Scholar, has pointed out that the Greek preposition "eis," translated "for" in the phrase "for the remission of sins," may also mean "because of." An example of this can be found in Luke 11:32, where the text says that the people of Nineveh "...repented at the preaching of Jonas..." The word "at" is a translation of the same Greek term "eis" found in Acts 2:38. The people of Jonah’s day, you see, did not repent for his preaching; but, because of it.

To quote Dr. John R. Rice, a worthy scholar, from his "Filled With the Spirit, The Book of Acts, A Verse-by-Verse Commentary: "The King James translation of Acts 2:38 ‘...be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins...’ is unfortunate and inaccurate. The little Greek preposition eis, translated for, is an indefinite preposition of reference. It does not mean in order to. If Peter had commanded the people to be baptized in order to receive the remission of sins, he would have needed to use the Greek preposition hina, which means in order to. He did not.

This little preposition eis, used about 1,800 times in the New Testament in Greek, is variously translated, for, at, toward, unto, into, etc. So it could be translated for, as here, only in the sense of ‘on the basis of,’ or ‘on the ground of,’ so Dr. A.T. Robertson explains.

Even in English the preposition for does not necessarily mean in order to. Often for means ‘on the basis of,’ or ‘on the ground of.’ Thus one is scolded for being late, or arrested for stealing, or praised for beauty, or rewarded for bravery, or paid for work. In that sense only is one ‘baptized for the remission of sins,’ that is baptized for remission of sins already obtained when one repented.

Acts 2:38 does not give a new plan of salvation. Acts 10:43 says, ‘To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.’ So John 3:36 says, ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.’ So say many other Scriptures. One who trusts in Christ has, immediately, everlasting life."

With this in mind, let us return to Acts 2:38 where the Greek "eis" is translated "for" in the KJT and "unto" in the RSV. In these instances,, the Greek "eis" would be incorrectly translated "for and "unto." The correct translation would be "BECAUSE OF," a more accurate rendering. Therefore, in Acts 2:38, "eis" is showing the "basis or grounds" for baptism, that being their remission of sins BECAUSE of their belief in Jesus Christ. This would then be in perfect agreement with all other Scripture concerning salvation.

Here is how the verse would read in its proper translation, "Then said Peter unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ ("EIS") BECAUSE OF, the remission of sins..."

In other words, "repent" or "change your mind" about the Christ you crucified with wicked hands (hands of unbelief). (Acts 2:23). Receive Him as your Savior; then be baptized, thus publicly identifying yourself with Him in this profession of your faith. There is no contradiction between Acts 2:38 and John 3:16!


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